Strangeways riots inquiry chief fears for state of prisons

A former lord chief justice of England and Wales said he feared conditions in British prisons were among the worst in a generation - and compared it to the state of jails before the notorious Manchester Strangeways riot of 1990.

Lord Woolf, speaking to the Observer, referenced the longest prison riot in British history, which began on April 1 and lasted until April 25, resulting in deaths of two people and scores were injured.

Lord Woolf, who led the inquiry into the riot, was speaking after a scathing report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons found drugs were readily available, communal areas were in a "decrepit" state and there was a significant problem with cockroaches and rats at Liverpool jail.

Lord Woolf led the inquiry into the Strangeways riot (PA Wire / Anthony Devlin)
Lord Woolf led the inquiry into the Strangeways riot (PA Wire / Anthony Devlin)

He told the newspaper: "[If] you ask me whether we have gone back to where we were pre-Strangeways, I think we are there in that sort of territory.

"It is not confined to one of our prison establishments. It is across the board.

"There has been a complete breakdown in recognising the fact that serious action is needed, and recognising that the only way to do it is to have a long-term plan, with somebody in charge of it throughout the term."

Writing in the Observer, prisons minister Rory Stewart said prison "remains a deeply disturbing place", citing the prevalence of sophisticated criminal gangs behind bars, drug use and "horrifying rates of self-harm".

He added: "But my instinct is that with focus and pragmatism, we can begin to make a real difference , to the lives of those inside , and ultimately to protecting the public outside the prison walls."

The Observer said analysis of 118 prisons inspection reports found more than two-thirds (68%) provided unsatisfactory standards in at least one respect, with two in five jails deemed to be unacceptably unsafe, according to the newspaper.