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Jailbirds ‘use plastic cutlery to escape cells’ as anti-riot officers arrive at Winchester prison

Jailbirds ‘use plastic cutlery to escape cells’ before anti-riot officers wade in to crush uprising at Winchester prison

  • The sole officer guarding the wing had to retreat as 19 prisoners took control 
  • Specialist anti-riot officers were called in after the wing was put on lock down 
  • At least 12 similar break-outs have unfolded at the prison in the past year 

A group of prisoners escaped their cells by using plastic cutlery to pick through the crumbling walls, it was claimed yesterday.

Specialist anti-riot officers were rushed to HMP Winchester after the prisoners burst out on Sunday.

The sole prison officer guarding the wing of the Victorian cell block had to retreat as the 19 prisoners took control and the wing was shut.

A group of prisoners have apparently escaped their cells by using plastic cutlery to pick through the crumbling walls at HMP Winchester

The Prison Officers Union (POA) said the incident raised serious questions about conditions within the category-B prison, which was built in 1846 and houses 690 prisoners, many of whom have been convicted of violent offences.

At least 12 similar break-outs have unfolded at the prison in the past year, placing guards at risk, according to the POA. 

It said that those behind Sunday evening’s disorder had smuggled plastic cutlery from the kitchen and used it to force a way through the old walls surrounding their cell doors.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) denied the claim, insisting the prisoners had used furniture to break ‘weak points’ in the walls after manipulating mortar around doors.

The incident started at around 11pm when four prisoners escaped their cells and then encouraged others to join in.

A so-called Tornado unit, involving specialist officers trained in riot control, was called in, along with officers from a rapid-response unit.

Some prisoners jumped on netting surrounding the prison landing before pepper spray was used to restore order.

The B-wing where the incident took place has been shut down and the inmates involved transferred to other prisons.

No one is believed to have been injured in the incident, although four inmates were taken to hospital ‘as a precaution’. 

Those involved in the escape face disciplinary hearings that could see their prison sentences increased.

HMP Winchester was placed in special measures by the Ministry of Justice in January 2018 after fears were expressed that it was ‘teetering on the edge of a major incident’.

The most recent disturbance comes after the POA raised concerns about the structural security of the prison in June.

A source said: ‘The POA kept bringing it up and the management kept reassuring them that the wing had been surveyed. They said it is not a security risk and there’s nothing to see so move on.’

In a September 2018 report, Winchester prison’s independent monitoring board said: ‘The prison buildings are old, requiring significant maintenance in addition to routine repairs.’

The MoJ has previously insisted that the prison is not an ‘escape risk’ but said a full assessment has been launched into Sunday’s incident.

Mark Fairhurst, chairman of the POA, said: ‘We are disappointed that our members’ concerns over the past 12 months have not been taken seriously.’

A Prison Service spokesman said: ‘Our highly skilled staff successfully resolved an isolated incident at HMP Winchester. We are working closely with the police and will push for the strongest possible punishment for those involved.’