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Labour warns of 'prison emergency' as riot erupts at Bedford

LABOUR is warning about a “state of emergency” in British jails after inmates rioted yet again at Bedford prison.

This weekend’s chaos at Bedford came as Prisons Minister Rory Stewart now has just six months to turn around Britain’s jails or step down from his job.

The Tory MP promised last summer he would resign if prison conditions did not improve within a year.

Now his position looks increasingly untenable after a prison service “Tornado” team had to storm Bedford jail on Saturday.

The specialist squad took six hours to regain control, although no prisoners or staff were injured.

Labour’s shadow justice minister Imran Hussain told the Morning Star: “This highlights our prisons are in a state of emergency.

“There’s a shortage of officers and rising levels of violence.”

“This leaves serious questions for the government and the minister to answer about what improvements they have made.”

Prison Officers Association national chairman Mark Fairhurst echoed his concerns, saying: “We need experienced staff. We need leadership.”

Mr Fairhurst described Bedford jail as “one of the most violent and under resourced prisons in the country.”

However it was not included on a list of 10 top priority prisons that Mr Stewart promised to transform by August 2019.

Mr Hussain noted: “This weekend there was a very serious incident at Bedford however it is not the first and it was placed under special measures very recently for that reason.”

There was an earlier riot at the prison in 2016 when hundreds of prisoners caused £1 million worth of damage.

The site was put under special measures last year, meaning that it required “urgent action” from ministers to improve conditions.

Horrified inspectors later revealed that the segregation unit was infested by cockroaches and a “plague of rats.”

Their report said: “The unit is simply appalling. It is a dungeon. These are not appropriate conditions in which to detain prisoners in the 21st century.”

Official statistics show that around a third of prisoners at Bedford are on remand and have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Commenting on the unrest at HMP Bedford, a Prison Service spokesman said: “We do not tolerate violence in our prisons and, where incidents like this occur, will always push for the strongest possible punishment for those involved.”

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