Woman governor tumbles down stairs as 100 prisoners riot


Last updated at 23:21 02 February 2008

A woman prison governor suffered a broken wrist after falling down a staircase during a riot in which more than 100 inmates fought with chair legs, pool cues and snooker balls stuffed into socks.

Sonia Brooks fell when she tried to help break up a violent brawl between rival Irish and Muslim gangs at Brixton Prison in South London.

Two of her male colleagues were knocked unconscious and one warder suffered a fractured cheekbone as inmates went on the rampage.

Twelve staff were treated in hospital and one had to take a week off after suffering severe concussion. It took 60 prison officers more than an hour to bring the situation under control.

Ms Brooks, a junior governor, had recently been transferred from Feltham Young Offenders' Institution in Middlesex.

The Ministry of Justice played down the extent of the trouble, claiming it was a "minor disturbance" with only 25 prisoners involved in the fighting.

But the Prison Officers' Association (POA) accused the Government of a "cover-up" and demanded a public inquiry from Justice Secretary Jack Straw to establish why the Prison Service failed to order a "Gold Command Suite" – a top-level meeting of civil servants who direct responses to major jail unrest.

Insiders at Brixton said the riot had been brewing for 'some time' but managers had ignored repeated warnings from staff.

The inmates were packed two to a cell and a series of botched drug deals between the Muslim and Irish gangs are said to have stretched tensions to breaking point.

On January 10, tempers boiled over and a minor scuffle on A Wing escalated into a full-scale riot.

"It was hand-to-hand combat – an absolute free-for-all," said a source. "Prisoners were fighting on three different landings armed with chair legs, pool cues and snooker balls wrapped in socks. One hundred and twenty prisoners were involved.

"All 60 staff on duty had to rush over from all areas of the prison and several received punches and kicks to the head."

Thirty suspected ringleaders have since been moved to other jails in an attempt to calm the atmosphere.

"We had to draw our extendable batons which is very unusual," claimed another insider. "It was nothing like anyone had seen before.

"We are increasingly having to use our batons because we do not have enough staff to man our overcrowded prisons."

The POAs claim the battle could have been "nipped in the bud" if the number of staff had not been halved in recent years. Colin Moses, the POA's national chairman, said: "Clearly, this Government is more interested in covering up what happens in prisons rather than trying to solve problems of its own making.

"What we saw in Brixton is indicative of an under-resourced, under-staffed Prison Service, at a time when my members are having to deal with more violent inmates than ever before.

"We want a full independent inquiry into what happened at Brixton to ensure that it never happens again."

Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert said: "Jack Straw must provide the full facts about this incident. It is essential that in conditions of overcrowding we can be confident that prisons are under control."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said last night: "There was no attempt to mislead anyone. Approximately 25 prisoners were involved in aggression and a further 60 refused to return to their cells.

"Gold Command Suite was not opened because Brixton prison authorities believed they could control the situation.

"A number of staff were injured including a female prison governor who stumbled down some stairs. Ministers were told the following day about the incident."

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