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Guards Regain Control of Half Prison; 49 Wounded

April 2, 1990

MANCHESTER, England (AP) _ Scores of rioting prison inmates surrendered to authorities today and guards retook half of a Victorian prison devastated by an uprising that one politician called the worst this century.

Forty-nine guards and prisoners were injured in the rioting Sunday at the medium-security Strangeways prison, one of Europe’s most crowded. Today, the prison looked like the scene of a bombing, said Ivor Serle, a chapter chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association.

″The prison is wrecked inside and will have to be virtually rebuilt,″ he said. ″It is like a building that has been blitzed.″

Firefighters working under police protection brought under control fires set in the chapel and a gymnasium, but smoke still billowed from one corner of the building.

About a dozen inmates were huddled on the shattered roof of a 100-foot-high prison building in the rain this morning, occasionally shouting abuse and hurling roof tiles into the yard below.

Some wore prison officers shirts, and several were wrapped in green prison blankets. A helicopter clattered overhead continually in this northern industrial city.

Earlier, eyewitnesses said one prisoner climbed up on the roof dangling a police officer’s riot shield as a trophy.

The Home Office said all but 119 of the prison’s 1,648 inmates had surrendered by late morning. Guards seized half of the facility without a fight, but inmates still controlled five of the prison’s 10 wings, Serle said.

Serle said reports that 12 sex offenders were killed by other prisoners could not be confirmed. He said no bodies had been found. All guards were accounted for and no hostages were taken.

Prisoners on the roof raised a flag late this afternoon saying ″No Dead,″ but Home Secretary David Waddington told the House of Commons that the possibility of deaths ″cannot be ruled out.″

Nine surrendering prisoners claimed to have been forcibly injected with drugs by other inmates, Waddington said.

The Home Office said 1,458 inmates had been transferred to prisons throughout the country and 69 were awaiting transportation to other facilities.

″The riot is the worst prison disturbance this century,″ said a Labor Party spokesman, Barry Sheerman. ″Strangeways is a ghastly place and conditions there are very difficult for the inmates and the staff.″

Strangeways, an imposing red-brick and sandstone facility, was built in 1868 for 970 men, and three inmates are often crammed into a cell meant for one.

There was no clear indication of what caused the rioting, which began during Sunday morning service in the prison chapel when inmates grabbed keys from guards and used them to gain access to large areas of the facility.

The Rev. Noel Proctor, an Anglican minister who conducted the service, said one inmate grabbed the microphone.

″He started shouting at some of the lads and they started acting on and shouting back. He was shouting obscenities and things like, ’This is our opportunity.‴

Initially, police managed only to reach the chapel, evacuating the injured using plastic shields to protect them from roof tiles hurled by prisoners.

John Bartell, president of the Prison Officers’ Association, accused the government of ″criminal negligence.″ He said it was known from Saturday that disturbances would break out, but that only five officers were on duty in the prision chapel when the rioting broke out.

David Evans, also of the association, described the prison as a ″war zone,″ He said injured guards taken from the prison said some prisoners were killed.

″I do not know how many but there have been people lying prostrate and not moving for hours,″ he said.

Twelve staff and 37 inmates were treated for injuries at hospitals, Home Office spokesman Charles Keseru said.

Evans said prison guards were injured trying to defend inmates from fellow prisoners. He said guards had complained for years about squalor and overcrowding at Strangeways and other 19th century jails.

George Elliot, a spokesman for the guards’ association, said 110 officers were on duty at the prison over the weekend, compared with 350 on an average weekday.

Judge Stephen Tumim, chief inspector of prisons, said one shower a week was the norm for inmates at Strangeways and the most dangerous inmates were locked up 22 hours a day.

″They rarely left their cells save for slopping out, weekly showers, collecting meals and one hour’s exercise in a dirty yard,″ Tumim said in a report last week. ″They could not use the main library or gymnasium. Library books sent to them were limited and in poor shape.″

″Slopping out″ is the morning emptying of chamber pots by inmates, whose cells do not have flush toilets.

The best-known riot in British penal history this century was at Dartmoor, the grim jail built in 1809 on the moors of Devon. There, a 1932 riot over poor food and conditions left 70 inmates and six guards injured.

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