An open prison is the subject of an inquiry after balaclava-clad inmates went on the rampage and torched buildings in a New Year’s Day mutiny sparked by an attempted clampdown on contraband alcohol.
A number of buildings were burned to the ground at Ford Prison, near Arundel, West Sussex, during the violent spree which started in the early hours of this morning.
It was claimed that only two prison officers and four support staff were on duty at the time to manage a population of almost 500 inmates.
Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt said 150 prisoners were being moved to closed conditions, either because they were involved in the disturbances or because of damage to their accommodation.
Throughout Saturday, authorities struggled to regain control but the situation worsened at lunchtime when three further accommodation blocks were burned to the ground. The arson attacks claimed a total of six accommodation blocks, a gymnasium, a mail room, a snooker room and a pool room including 10 newly-installed pool tables.
Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said alcohol had been a concern at the jail for some time, with dozens of empty bottles found in recent days.
Things turned violent when guards suspected some prisoners of seeing in the New Year with alcohol. About 40 inmates took part in the violence, with those from the prison’s B wing taking the lead. Wearing home-made balaclavas, they began smashing windows and activating fire alarms. They then started to set buildings alight.
Mr Freeman said: “When the prisoners refused to be breathalysed they became violent along with other prisoners and went on what we call a mutiny, this is a prison mutiny.” He added: “This has been a long time waiting to happen.
Firefighters eventually went into the prison shortly after noon. Scores of prison officers in riot gear escorted two fire engines on to the site. By 1pm, the authorities had regained control of one of the two wings with all of the inmates contained by 4pm.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “The fire brigade has been into the prison and the fires have been contained. The causes of the disturbance are not yet known and will be subject to an investigation.”