MPs call for inquiry as young offenders end siege

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The Independent Online

MPs are calling for a judicial inquiry into conditions at a young offenders' institution where 26 prisoners held an eight-hour siege yesterday.

The inmates set up barricades at Portland Young Offenders' Institution, in Dorset, and the siege only ended when staff in full riot gear smashed through the barriers.

The trouble flared at the end of a "free association" period at 8.15pm on Wednesday, when the inmates, aged between 18 and 21, refused to return to their own cells and made barricades from pieces of furniture.

The Prison Service has begun an inquiry into the disturbances, the causes of which remain unclear.

The siege comes as 127 backbench MPs backed an early day motion calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the regime at Portland and into allegations of brutality against inmates spanning several years.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, recently expressed misgivings about the militaristic nature of the regime at the jail at the time of his inspection.

Last night Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has raised concerns over the treatment of prisoners at Portland, said the inquiry into the siege should include someone independent of the Prison Service, who could decide if the inmates had "legitimate grievances".

She said: "I would want the inquiry to look at whether it was necessary to go in wearing full riot gear at four o'clock in the morning. Sitting it out might have been better."

No one was injured in the siege, which ended after specialist "Tornado" teams of prison officers in riot clothing were drafted from Winchester and Dorchester prisons.

At one stage more than 80 officers were believed to be involved in the incident. Fire crews and Dorset police officers were on alert outside the prison throughout the night.

A Prison Service spokesman said yesterday: "The prison officers all dealt with the situation extremely well. They are trained to do so but the fact that no one was injured and the situation was resolved is testament to their skills."

Many of the inmates involved in the disturbances have been moved to other institutions, he said.