Prison officers retake riot jail by storm

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Police with riot shields and dogs surrounded Reading jail in Berkshire yesterday as nearly 50 prisoners went on the rampage after overpowering guards. During the disturbances, brought under control late last night, three prison officers were taken to hospital with suspected broken bones.

The inmates, all remand prisoners aged between 16 and 21, smashed furniture in the reception area and started a number of small fires, which could be seen burning from outside the prison.

Late last night a Home Office spokesman described the damage - mainly in the kitchen and gym - as 'substantial'.

At one point, four men commandeered a police vehicle which they attempted to use as a battering ram in an attempt to break out of the jail. Police outside responded by commandeering a council gritting lorry and parking it across the front entrance.

Police drafted in 130 prison officers from 11 other south-west jails as well as off-duty Reading staff to reinforce their numbers. A Berkshire fire service spokesman said as many as 40 firefighters were attending the blaze.

Trouble broke out at 7.15pm when the 48 young prisoners awaiting trial at the remand centre refused to return to their cells at the end of the recreation period. During a fracas with staff, three prison officers were injured and a set of keys seized. Staff withdrew from the recreation area, leaving it in control of the inmates.

Because it was Boxing Day, it was reported, only 11 officers were on duty to control 100 prisoners.

Three warders were taken to the Royal Berkshire hospital, suffering from a broken nose, cheek bone and finger. They were released after treatment.

At one point it appeared that the disturbances might get out of hand and because of the apparent danger police and fire-fighters decided not to enter the area of the riot. Describing the situation as 'dynamic', a Home Office spokesman said officers were in contact with the prisoners and trying to end the incident.

'At least 10 of them are setting fires in the reception area of the prison while others are racing around dangerously in the car they have stolen,' he added. 'At the moment it is too dangerous for the fire brigade or the police to go into the prison.'

The fire brigade said later it had crews inside the building fighting the blaze.

Forty-three prisoners who took no part in the riot were evacuated to Reading police station as police in protective clothing, drafted in from towns around the Thames Valley, ducked missiles hurled at them by the inmates.

The incident ended just after 10.30pm when, acording to the Home Office, a large number of prison officers entered the area and overpowered the rioting inmates. 'Order was restored at Reading Prison just after 10.30pm when 48 inmates gave themselves up,' a spokesman said. 'The prison is now under the control of the governor. Reading prison staff and officers from 11 other establishments entered the prison to restore order.

'Control and restrain techniques were used. Two inmates sustained minor injuries,' he said.

The prison was made famous by Oscar Wilde who wrote 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' while serving a sentence there. In July 1991, Kenneth Baker, then the Home Secretary, announced the prison would become a remand centre, in line with recommendations in Lord Justice Woolf's report on the Strangeways prison riot in 1990.

(Photograph omitted)