40 prisoners set part of prison ablaze during New Year's Day rampage

Only two guards were on duty yesterday as forty inmates at an open prison went on a rampage, setting fire to part of the prison and causing £2 million worth of damage.

The supposedly low-risk Category D prisoners went on the New Year's Day rampage after staff at Ford open prison in Arundel, West Sussex, wanted to breathalyse them.

As well as setting fire to six accommodation blocks, the prisoners also torched a snooker room, pool room, gym block and the mail room.

Despite there being around 500 inmates at the prison, it was staffed by just two men, backed by four support staff.

Now, Labour MP and former Minister Tom Watson demanded an explanation from Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, describing the situation as shambolic.

It is understood the jail has seen staff cuts of up to 20 per cent in two years (though Mr Watson should remember that for the vast majority of that time it was his party who were in power and not the present Tory/Liberal administration).

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt has said 150 inmates had since been moved to ‘closed’ conditions.

And the inappropriately named Mark Freeman, of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), said guards had been chasing inmates around Ford open prison ‘like a scene out of Benny Hill’, trying to enforce breath tests just before the riots started.

By yesterday afternoon, riot police managed to get the situation under control, with all the rioters being detained. Six have been described as ringleaders.

This is not the first time that controversy has hit Ford open prison. Set at a former air base in Arundel, West Sussex, Ford houses up to 557 Category D prisoners – who are those trusted not to escape. However, there have been escape attempts. According to the Home Office, 70 prisoners absconded from the jail in 2006, although they were recaptured.

In 2009, inspectors discovered that lax security at Ford allowed prisoners to sneak out to buy alcohol and drugs. Some convicts even arranged for drink and other banned items to be left just outside the perimeter for collection.

Britain has a prison population of around 100,000, the largest in the EU.

Fury over 'shambolic' staff levels as prisoners cause £2m damage in New Year's Day rampage - after being ordered to have breathalyser tests

By Ian Gallagher, Mail on Sunday Chief Reporter
2nd January 2011
Daily Mail

  • Forty rioters went round unchallenged causing £2m damage
  • The jail has seen staff cuts of up to 20 per cent in two years
  • 150 inmates sent to 'closed' prison
  • Tension in the prison had risen over the last week

The incident happened at Ford open prison in Arundel, West Sussex

Only two guards were on duty as balaclava-clad inmates caused at least £2million of damage by burning down buildings at an open jail yesterday.

The warders were terrified as 40 rioters went on an unchallenged New Year’s Day rampage after staff attempted to breathalyse them.

After torching six accommodation blocks, the prisoners set fire to a snooker room, pool room, gym block and the mail room.

Ablaze: Ford Prison in Arundel, Sussex, where prisoners set buildings alight and ran riot

As an inquiry was launched last night, there was incredulity that just two men, backed by four powerless support staff, were responsible for managing almost 500 inmates at Ford Open Prison.

Labour MP and former Minister Tom Watson demanded an explanation from Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, describing the situation as shambolic.

It is understood the jail has seen staff cuts of up to 20 per cent in two years.

At around 100,000, the UK prisoner population is the biggest in the EU.

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt, who was at a House of Commons fireworks party when the riot started shortly after midnight, said 150 inmates had since been moved to ‘closed’ conditions.

Tension had risen in the past week and sources said disorder was ‘inevitable’. The riot was eventually brought under control in the afternoon when police, firefighters and 140 prison staff, including specially trained guards in body armour, entered the jail near Arundel, West Sussex.

Inferno: Inmates removing their possessions from the burning buildings yesterday

Inferno: Inmates walk near the burning buildings at the low security prison

Mark Freeman, of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), said guards had earlier been chasing inmates around ‘like a scene out of Benny Hill’, trying to enforce breath tests.

Last year a report criticised Ford after finding inmates left the site ‘with ease’ at night to smuggle in alcohol.

The latest tests came after 40 empty bottles of alcohol were found. Sources told The Mail on Sunday that a stash of cocaine and heroin was also found in a jail dormitory on Friday after a tip-off.

The discovery led to the threat of a more exhaustive search, which inmates apparently resisted. And at one stage, according to the source, staff received ‘telephone threats from friends of the inmates on the outside’.

By yesterday afternoon all the rioters had been detained, with six identified as ringleaders. The POA said three of these were being held while the rest were ‘hiding’ among the other prisoners.

Extra security: Specialist prison officers had to be brought in to escort the fire fighters at the site near Arundel

Calm at last: Riot police on duty as inmates walk back to buildings as the chaos dies down

Damage caused by the rioting and flames is visible (left), while a riot officer patrols the perimeter

The loss of the accommodation blocks meant that more than 100 inmates were transferred to another jail.

Mr Freeman said he was concerned the Government was placing inappropriate prisoners in open jails in an attempt to reduce inmate numbers.

He also questioned staffing levels, saying: ‘The general policy is that prisons in an open state have less staff but we feel they should have more because they have more access to illegal activities. This is what happens when you have the mix of easily available alcohol and the wrong type of prisoner.’

Set at a former air base, Ford houses up to 557 Category D prisoners – those trusted not to escape.

Defiant: Prisoners doing a V for Victory as buildings continue to burn

Up in flames: Smoke and fire pours from the open prison near Arundel, West Sussex, yesterday morning

Riot police were called in after around 40 inmates began smashing windows and torching buildings

Riot police are continuing to gather at the scene which is not yet under control

Because of the pressure on the prison system, however, the jail has been forced to accept a sizeable contingent of more hardened criminals. The violence began when inmates, mainly from B-wing, smashed windows and activated fire alarms. They then set buildings alight.

Mr Freeman said: ‘In the early hours, staff tried to breathalyse a number of prisoners because they suspected they had been drinking, which I think we can say with some certainty because of the amount of alcohol found over recent days and weeks.

‘When the prisoners refused to be breathalysed they became violent.’

He added: ‘This has been a long time waiting to happen. Staff have been running around trying to breathalyse prisoners. It’s been reminiscent of the end scenes of The Benny Hill Show – the only thing missing was the music.’

Firefighters, escorted by prison officers in riot gear, went in shortly after noon. By 1pm, the authorities had regained control of one of the two wings, with all inmates contained by 4pm.

Prison population of some EU countries, per 100,000 inhabitants

UK: 148 (the highest)
Netherlands: 128
Italy: 104
Germany: 95
France: 85
Sweden: 82
Denmark: 77

(Canada: 107)

Prisons Minister Mr Blunt warned inmates who witnessed the riot would be required to provide ‘full and frank’ accounts. ‘This is an extremely unusual event in an open prison because pris¬oners have a great deal to lose and they are, certainly as far as any influence I can bring to bear, going to lose it,’ he said.

The Prison Service said last night it could not comment on the allegations of drugs being found. It said an investigation has been launched and added: ‘The staffing level at HMP Ford has been risk assessed and is considered appropriate for the role staff are asked to do.

‘This is the same for other open prisons. This is not due to budget cuts.’

Police escort: Firefighters had to be chaperoned into the site

View from the sky: The scale of the blaze is visible in this picture taken from a helicopter


Many must have been shocked to see television pictures yesterday of Ford Open Prison ablaze. But as it was my home for six months in the late Nineties this news did not surprise me.

Now allegations are being made about staffing levels being too low and security too lax but this misses the point of open prisons. Thisis that inmates are in an environment with more relaxed security and regulations.

They can leave at 8am for work, returning at 5pm. The idea is to prove you can be trusted and are suitable to be released back into society. This is all the more important with lifers.

I remember going for my first haircut. As the scissors started to bite I casually asked: ‘What are you in for?’

‘Murder,’ he growled. ‘Slit a geezer’s throat.’ I suddenly remembered I needed a pee.

Ford is a disused RAF Spitfire base with the pilots’ huts converted for inmates to stay in. They have small but comfortable rooms with green open spaces outside. In the middle of the huts is a cricket pitch – the centre of attention in summer.

Precisely because Ford is an open prison, security is light and the perimeter fence easy to jump or throw things over. If you do something daft and get caught then you either have your sentence extended or are sent back to a secure prison – or ‘bang-up’ – also with an extended sentence. Not a great idea if you have a family on the outside who you miss and who need you.

During my time I saw my fair share of daft behaviour. About one person a month absconded, though they were soon caught and sent to bang-up. At roll calls we had to stand outside our doors and, in answer to our names, shout ‘Sir!’ If an inmate was drunk the warden would notice and if he wasn’t there at all then the balloon would go up.

Once during roll call I noticed my new neighbour was still on his bed. He reeked of booze. I grabbed him, pinned him to the wall and barked ‘Sir!’ out of the corner of my mouth when his name was called. I later learnt he was a member of one of the country’s largest crime families. Another time, an inmate desperate to see his family arranged for his twin to vault the fence to take his place for a few days. No one noticed.

One night I went into an inmate’s room for a chat. After a few moments he said: ‘All right love, you can come out now!’ and a woman emerged from under the bed. ‘How the hell did you smuggle her in?’ I asked. ‘Simple, her bro gave her a leg up over the fence!’

She was returned in the early hours.

Of course, if you can smuggle a large item in a skirt over the fence then a bottle of brandy or vodka is a doddle but, again, Ford is a low security prison and the penalties for being caught are too much for most inmates. They have their sights firmly focused on one thing – home. To monitor alcohol and drugs, inmates were randomly tested at the gatehouse. Some carried soap in their trousers so, if a urine sample had to be given, it would be contaminated by soap.

If there was big trouble the screws wouldn’t be able to cope and would have to rely on outside help. This happened twice in my time and both were race-related. One involved a black chap trying to stir up a race riot and the other was an Islam convert alleging all sorts of mayhem, claiming his rights had been infringed.

Disorder was the exception. The low number of staff was justified and they kept good order. Inmates breaching the rules were frogmarched before the governor and punishments dished out.

So, why did prisoners set fire to blocks yesterday? Undoubtedly the riot was triggered by alcohol, but it was extraordinarily daft of those involved. The governor will know who took part and they will all return to bang-up. Not such a Happy New Year for their families, but perhaps these inmates just don’t care – with a lifetime of unemployment to look forward to. Perhaps they thought: ‘Sod it, let’s burn the place’. However, to redesign the open prison concept on the back of one riot would be like banning shotguns because one man ran riot in Cumbria. Open prisons play a vital role in acclimatising and preparing inmates for the outside world. If we increase staff and beef up security, society will pay a heavy price.

An inmate given sudden freedom from an institution where almost everything is done for them is far more likely to fall foul of society’s rules, especially when they have been behind bars for decades.

Lord Charlie Brocket was convicted of insurance fraud in 1996 and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jan 2nd, 2011 at 01:54 PM..
just a bunch of the lads wanting a little new years fun. what's the harm??

couple million pounds. Queenie could pay for this with her monthly bar bill.

This lot of warders should lighten up, eh wot.

Similar Threads

Toronto's downtown ablaze!!
by dancing-loon | Feb 20th, 2008
Churches set ablaze by mob in Pakistan
by unclepercy | Nov 13th, 2005
no new posts