Guards feared they’d ‘wipe blood forever’ if lags attacked sex offenders in riot
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Officers who were working at Strangeways Prison when the longest riot in British penal history erupted have described the horrific scenes they encountered.
At Strangeways Prison in Manchester in April 1990, a violent riot broke out, with inmates taking control of the infamous jail for 25 days.
The protest was sparked by prisoners’ dissatisfaction with intolerable living conditions and resulted in the Woolf Report recommending major reform to the UK’s prison system.
Starting their protest in the chapel, lags eventually forced their way onto the roof, where they partied and communicated their grievances with the media opposite.
Now, a Channel 5 documentary, Strangeways Riot: 25 Days of Mayhem, broadcasting tonight (March 17) has detailed the evolution of the riot day-by-day.
Interviews with on-duty officers stressed that as the prison officers lost control over their inmates, there was a fear that violent scenes would erupt between convicts.
No longer able to maintain the segregation of inmates, there were concerns that “vulnerable” prisoners, such as sex offenders, would be targeted by bloodthirsty groups of vigilantes.
“Some stories came out that they were going to go after the vulnerable prisoners, which included sex offenders or those who were under protection,” prison officer Dave Taylor explained.
One of the prison’s hospital officers Maggie Jones agreed, remembering: “The first thought was to get the sex offenders out, because we thought, if they get them, we’re gonna be wiping blood forever.”
The majority of this group of inmates were safely escorted off the premises, but some who had been waiting for sentencing in a different wing weren’t so fortunate.
“They were actually caught by the rioters, they were beaten up very savagely,” Brendan O’Friel, the prison’s former Governor, recalled.
“The stories about the beating up of the vulnerable prisoners, they were all pretty accurate. [It was] pretty horrific, I mean they forced them to take drugs, they beat them up in all sorts of ways, and they attempted to castrate them.”
One prisoner who was one of the riot’s ringleaders, Alan Lord, even recalled one inmate being repeatedly thrown over the balcony of the prison’s upper tiers.
As it turned out, only one inmate, Derek White, died as a result of the riot, although another 47 were reportedly injured.
The riot eventually came to an end after 25 days following negotiations between prisoners and officers, which was mediated by the local press.
Strangeways was closed for refurbishment, and after £55million worth of repairs, the institution reopened as HM Prison Mancghester in May 1994.
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