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Hundreds of convicts riot at UK jail over conditions

Police have restored order after at least four wings of a jail in central England were taken over by inmates. Prisoners have told local media that prison conditions are worsening due to government cuts.

Security officers were able to restore order late Friday after the city of Birmingham, England, saw the UK's worst prison rioting since 1990. Prison officials had called in a specialist "Tornado Team," which is trained to deal with prison riots, as the "disturbance" worsened on Friday afternoon.

The trouble erupted at the privately run prison in Birmingham shortly after 09:00 UTC on Friday, forcing staff to withdraw.

Security firm G4S, which runs the 1,450-inmate facility, said in a statement posted to social media that the incident had spread from two to four wings during the day.

Riot teams placed the affected areas in lockdown, and G4S said that due to the severity of the incident, the Prison Service had taken charge of the operation. A spokesman for G4S said all its staff has been accounted for.

Sky News television reported late on Friday that as many as 600 inmates had been involved but that the situation had been brought under control, 

Prisoners angry at conditions

Within a few hours of the disturbance beginning, several inmates had called local media to complain about conditions inside the Victorian-era jail, built in 1849.

Prisoners said a lack of staff, poor healthcare and nutrition and being forced to remain in cells all day as factors that led to the trouble.

Local media reported that trouble flared when a security guard was threatened with a syringe by one inmate while another took his keys.

"It's understood a set of keys giving access to residential areas was taken from an officer and that offenders have since occupied some blocks and exercise facilities," police said in statement.

Riot police at HMP Birmingham

Riot police were deployed to the privately-run prison in Birmingham, England

System trouble

The latest disturbance is the third in English prisons in less than two months.

In November. around 200 prisoners went on the rampage at another jail in central England; the previous month a jail in southeastern England was the scene of a six-hour standoff between inmates and riot officers.

Britain's largest prisons union, the Prison Officers Association (POA), said the latest incident was a "stark warning to the Ministry of Justice that the prison service is in crisis."

The Prison Governors' Association (PGA) said jails were in a parlous state because of a decline in pay and the cutting of staff numbers.

In November, thousands of prisonofficers in England and Wales walked out in protest at rising levels of jail violence and concerns about the health and safety of staff and inmates.

Prison officials take control

"The situation is contained, the perimeter is secure and there is no risk to the public," the Ministry of Justice said in a statement on Friday evening.

"We are absolutely clear that prisoners who behave in this way will be punished and could spend significantly longer behind bars."

After the incident was resolved, Justice Minister Liz Truss vowed that the cause of the riots would be fully investigated. "Violence in our prisons will not be tolerated and those responsible will face the full force of the law," she said.

British authorities said that the 13-hour takeover of HMP Birmingham was the worst prison riot since the 25-day long uprising at Strangeways in Manchester in 1990, which left one prisoner dead.

mm,es/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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