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Hundreds of Inmates Riot At English Prison; 50 Injured

April 2, 1990

MANCHESTER, England (AP) _ About 700 inmates rioted at a crowded 19th century prison Sunday, occupying rooftops, smashing windows and setting fires. At least 50 guards and inmates were injured, police said.

Television newscasts carried unconfirmed reports that witnesses had seen up to 12 bodies. A police spokesman said inmates brought out of Strangeways Prison also reported deaths, but that police would not be able to confirm this until they reached the center of the complex.

The Home Office said no hostages were being held, and police said talks with prisoners were under way. There was no clear indication of the cause of the rioting at the medium-security prison, built in the Victorian era and now one of the most crowded in Europe.

Home Office spokesman Charles Keseru said prison officers regained control of one wing of the jail Sunday evening and found no seriously injured inmates. The office said 12 injured staff members and 25 inmates were taken to area hospitals.

The rioters appeared to have the rest of the complex under control, however. Prisoners were surrendering to authorities and about 400 had given up late Sunday night, Keseru said.

It was not clear how many still were participating in the riot or the circumstances of the prisoners who were not involved. The prison was built for 970 inmates but houses about 1,600.

Hundreds of riot police surrounded the prison and a police helicopter hovered overhead as flames leaped 20 feet into the air from the prison gymnasium, where a fire burned out of control.

Twenty-five firefighters under police protection battled the blaze as dense black smoke billowed above the building.

Fires also were reported to have been set in three cells and a classroom as large groups of inmates rampaged inside. Those fires later were reported under control.

Scores of police vans lined side streets around the prison, a mile from the Manchester city center in central England. The Home Office, responsible for prisons and law enforcement, said the perimeter of the prison was secure.

An office statement said the uprising began in the prison chapel at 11 a.m., when 300 inmates attacked staff members.

″Those prisoners then gained access to the chapel roof and then broke into the living accommodation in the main prison. Other prisoners, including those on remand, joined in the disturbance and staff had to be withdrawn,″ the statement said.

As many as 80 prisoners reportedly made their way on to the rooftops of the jail’s F wing, the prison chapel and adjoining buildings. The windows of a central turret linking several wings were smashed as prisoners made their way to the roof.

Once there, the prisoners tore roof tiles up and hurled them into the prison courtyard where there were believed to be groups of riot police and prison officers.

The prison, built in 1868, has been criticized as cramped and inadequate because of the crowding. In response, Home Secretary David Waddington has announced plans to expand Strangeways.

Judge Stephen Tumin, chief inspector of prisons, said in a report last week on Strangeways that one shower a week was the norm for the inmates and up to 400 men had no work assignments. He said the most dangerous men were locked up 22 hours a day.

Last week, two prisoners at Strangeways climbed onto the roof in a protest, but the reason was not made public.

The prison serves the local area; one-third of its inmates are awaiting trial and two-thirds have been sentenced, the Home Office said.

Many of Britain’s prisons date from Victorian times, and crowding has become a serious problem. One of the worst previous riots occurred in May 1989 at Risley Remand Center near Liverpool, when 54 inmates staged a rooftop demonstration and held off police for four days.

The most famous riot in British penal history this century was at Dartmoor, the jail on the moors of Devon, where fighting over poor food and conditions in 1932 left 70 inmates and six guards injured.

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