Tuesday 20 December 2016

G4S Must Pay For Prison Riots


The private security company G4S will have to foot the bill for the public sector Tornado special squads sent in to end the 12-hour riot at its Birmingham prison, the justice secretary has said.

An inquiry has been launched into one of the worst prison disturbances since the 1990 riots at Manchester’s Strangeways prison. After Friday’s events, 380 prisoners have been moved out of the wrecked wings of HMP Birmingham to other jails across England.

The dispersal of prisoners led to two incidents at Hull prison on Sunday and a further incident at Cardiff. The Prison Service’s “gold command” headquarters operation is remaining in place, monitoring all prisons in England and Wales for signs of potential unrest.

Liz Truss told MPs that insufficient staffing levels, a rise in new psychoactive drugs, gangs and bullying lay at the root of the Birmingham riot, adding they were common problems across public and private prisons: “The next few months will be difficult,” the justice secretary told MPs. “It will take time and concerted action, but I am confident we can turn this situation around.”

Labour MPs pressed Truss over whether warnings from the independent monitoring board at Birmingham had been acted on. They questioned her about the impact of a £700m budget cut and a reduction of 7,000 prison officers on the stability of the Prison Service.

Labour’s justice spokesman, Richard Burgon, said the riot should prompt the government to review the running of prisons by private companies such as G4S and Serco.

Truss said G4S would have to pay the cost of the public resources that were used, including 10 Tornado teams of highly trained officers deployed to retake control of the prison.

She told MPs that the Birmingham riot started at 9.15am on Friday, when six prisoners in N wing climbed on to netting. Truss said: “When staff intervened, one them had their keys snatched. At that point, staff withdrew for their own safety. Prisoners then gained control of the wing and subsequently of P wing.

“G4S immediately deployed two Tornado teams. At 11.29am, gold command was opened, and a further seven additional Tornado teams were dispatched to the prison. At 1.30pm, prisoners gained access to two more wings. Gold command made the decision that further reinforcements were needed and dispatched an additional four Tornado teams to the prison.”

She said that paramedics and staff tried to help an injured prisoner shortly after 3pm but were prevented from doing so and the afternoon was spent preparing to take back control of the wings.

“At 8.35pm, 10 Tornado teams of highly trained officers swept through the wings,” she said. “Shortly after 10pm, the teams had secured all four wings. The prisoner who had previously been reported injured was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital, along with two other prisoners.”

The inquiry into the prison riot will be carried out by Sarah Payne, an adviser to the chief inspector of probation and a former director of the Welsh Prison Service.

Although Truss repeatedly refused to confirm that she had read the Birmingham prison watchdog’s report in October, which warned of the need for urgent action to tackle understaffing and the spread of “black mamba” psychoactive drugs, she said the issues had been discussed with the prison governor.

The justice secretary’s Commons statement followed a renewed warning from the president of the independent monitoring board, John Thornhill, that insufficient staff numbers lay behind the rising levels of violence in prisons in England and Wales.

“It is the board’s view, echoed by prison staff, that there are insufficient staff numbers to deal with many of the day-to-day situations that occur in a local prison … The result, as we have seen in recent weeks, is an increase in riots that damage the system individuals,” he said.

“The impact of this unrestrained violence is that a large number of prisoners have to be transferred to other prisons that are already stretched with their own problems and staffing issues.”

Truss will publish a prison and courts bill in the new year to introduce wide-ranging reform and to build on the recruitment of 2.500 extra prison officers.



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