Prison guards working to end HMP Swaleside disturbance

Updated: 

Prison guards are continuing their efforts to bring under control a disturbance involving around 60 inmates at HMP Swaleside.

Prisoners took control of a landing on a wing at the category B training prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent shortly before 7pm on Thursday.

Prison Officers Association (POA) chairman Mike Rolfe said the extent of the disturbance was unclear but fires had been lit, and specially trained guards known as "Tornado" squads were drafted in to help quell the trouble.

Barking dogs could also be heard from outside the prison as officers fought to bring the situation under control. 

The Prison Service said the incident was confined to a landing on a single wing and the rest of the prison was secure, with inmates safely locked away.

It is the fourth major disturbance at an English prison in less than two months, coming a week after hundreds of inmates rioted at Birmingham prison, and will ratchet up pressure on the embattled Justice Secretary Liz Truss.

A Prison Service spokeswoman: "Specialist teams from the Prison Service have been deployed into HMP Swaleside as part of the ongoing operation to manage an incident involving 60 prisoners isolated to one landing on one wing.

"The situation at the prison remains contained and is in the process of being resolved."

HMP Swaleside has a capacity of around 1,100 inmates serving prison terms of more than four years. It has eight wings comprised of single cells.

Swaleside was condemned by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) in July, which described it in a report as "dangerous", with levels of violence that were "far too high" and many incidents of a serious nature.

A survey found 69% of inmates felt unsafe at some point - a result which was significantly higher than at similar facilities.

More than half (52%) of prisoners polled said it was easy or very easy to get drugs at the prison, while 45% said the same about alcohol.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons also said the use of force was high, while the segregation unit was described as "filthy".

The A wing of the prison houses the Open Academy, a study centre with a computer suite.

At the time of the HMIP report, inspectors said it was used by 50 of the 126 prisoners on the wing, who were enrolled on open and distance learning courses.

The Prison Service has been rocked by a series of disturbances in recent months.

Last week, hundreds of inmates rioted for more than 12 hours at Birmingham prison, one of the country's biggest jails.

Some 240 prisoners were transferred from the prison but it is understood none was taken to Swaleside.

Prisoners set fires, stole keys to residential areas from a guard and one inmate was seriously injured in a major disturbance on December 16.

On November 6 about 200 inmates went on the rampage at HMP Bedford just days after a national response unit had to be brought in to control prisoners after a six-hour incident at HMP Lewes in East Sussex.