Forces stand by for prison strike

The military could be brought in to staff prisons should officers strike over plans to privatise three jails, the Justice Secretary said yesterday.

Kenneth Clarke announced that HMP Birmingham will be run by private contractor G4S from October. The company will also manage the new Featherstone 2 prison in the West Midlands.

Doncaster prison will become the first to be run on a "payments by results" basis, whereby 10 per cent of private company Serco's new contract depends on whether reconviction rates are reduced. Buckley Hall in Rochdale will remain under the control of the Prison Service.

The plan was described as "disgraceful" by the Prison Officers Association. Its general secretary, Steve Gillan, said: "This is the wrong decision and politicians should hang their heads in shame."

Speaking outside HMP Birmingham, branch chairman Brian Clarke said his members could strike if the prison was handed to a private operator, despite such a walkout being illegal.

Mr Clarke told the Commons that military personnel were on stand-by if prison officers decided to strike.