1 Jan 2011

Alcohol blamed for prison riot as fire wrecks buildings

Order has been restored after rioting at Ford open prison in West Sussex. Smuggled alcohol is being blamed and, as Simon Israel reports, dozens of empty brandy bottles have been discovered.

The riot at HMP Ford near Arundel is thought to have started after inmates refused to be breathalysed for alcohol.

Around 40 prisoners began smashing windows and setting buildings alight and specialist riot officers had to be drafted in as the authorities struggled to regain control. Aerial views of the compound reveal substantial damage.

The trouble began at around midnight, when prisoners began setting off fire alarms. Staff were forced to retreat.

Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said a “large amount” of alcohol had been found in the prison.

He said that officers had been chasing inmates around “like a scene out of Benny Hill” attempting to get them to take a breath test.

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt told Channel 4 News there had been trouble at Ford prison before.

He explained: “There have been cases before of alcohol getting into the prison.

“I visited in the summer and was advised that the regime had been tightened considerably, we will have to look at that again.

“That will be a subject for the inquiry that is being set up.”

In 2006 it emerged that at least 70 prisoners absconded from the premises over a 12-month period. Among them were three murderers. In May of that year, 11 foreign nationals absconded after simply walking out.

Prison violence: riot officers outside HMP Ford in West Sussex.

Extensive damage was caused to two buildings with roofs buckling because of the fire. Firefighters eventually went in shortly after midday. Scores of prison officers in riot gear escorted two fire engines on to the site.

‘No-one wins’

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “No-one wins from a prison disturbance.

“It endangers prisoners and staff, worries families and ends in a high cost the Prison Service can ill afford.

“Once control is fully re-established, a review is called for to determine how and why this happened.

“Events of this kind are very rare in open prisons, which serve an important purpose to rehabilitate people who have served ever lengthening sentences.”

A-listers, Category D: famous Ford inmates
Ford Prison houses Category D prisoners - those thought by the authorities to be trusted not to attempt escape.

It has been home to some high-profile inmates. George Best played football for the prison team while serving time there in 1984 for drink-driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail.

Other famous residents have included renegade spy David Shayler as well as Ernest Saunders, Anthony Parnes and Gerald Ronson, three of the so-called "Guinness Four" share-trade fraudsters.