I guess there's really only one topic to cover today. This article from the Daily Telegraph:-
Around 240 prisoners are being moved out of HMP Birmingham following the "worst prison riot since Strangeways" more than 25 years ago. Four wings at the privately-run Category B prison were overrun by inmates on Friday during the incident, which lasted for more than 12 hours. Riot squads were deployed while photographs taken inside the prison by inmates and then shared on social media showed some of the alleged rioters wearing prison officers’ uniforms and showing off sets of keys.
The decision was announced as the head of the National Offender Management Service suggested violence in prisons was on the rise due to legal highs. Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, Michael Spurr said there had been a number of "underlying problems" at prisons across the country in recent year, including closures and reductions in staffing.
But he added: "At the same time, there have been external factors that have really impacted on the way we run our prisons. "There is more gang-related violence, much more serious violence from prisoners who come into prison now than previously and that has been fuelled also by psychoactive drugs, so-called legal highs Mamba and Spice, that have been sent and pushed into prisons, supplied into prisons that have really changed the dynamic."
Trouble erupted at HMP Birmingham, which is operated by G4S, shortly after 9am on Friday when prisoners overpowered staff and managed to wrestle keys from them. The disorder spread quickly amid reports that some of the ringleaders were attempting to reach the wing where vulnerable prisoners, including sex offenders, were being held.
Last night, specially-trained prison guards, known as "Tornado" squads, were backed up by about 25 riot police as they moved into the jail. Beyond the walls, banging, barking dogs and firecrackers could be heard. It was not clear what prompted the disturbance, but former prisoners claimed there were major problems with drugs and difficulties with staff. But one report suggested trouble flared during a row over a lack of access to television.
Alex Cavendish, a prison affairs academic, described it as “probably the most serious riot in a B category prison since Strangeways went up” in 1990. He said he had spoken to an inmate who described how they had begun by smashing lights, but violence had escalated quickly. Mr Cavendish said: “The officers were then – as they are instructed to do – trying to get as many prisoners locked in their cells as possible to contain it.
“While one of the officers was putting a prisoner in the cell, he was threatened with what appeared to be a used syringe.” Mr Cavendish said while this officer was distracted by the threat “another inmate came up behind, snatched the keys from his belt and snapped the security chain”.
The disturbance was initially contained in two wings, but by lunchtime had spread into other areas, with reports emerging that the rioters were in charge of the gymnasium, pharmacy and the security equipment store. HMP Birmingham was built in 1849 and can hold 1,450 adult remand and sentenced male prisoners.
On Friday, Jerry Petherick, managing director for G4S custodial and detention services, said: “All staff have been accounted for. “Additional officers have arrived on site and we have deployed canine units within the prison. West Midlands Police helicopter is also in attendance. We are working with colleagues across the service to bring this disturbance to a safe conclusion.”
A specialist riot squad known as the “Tornado Team” was deployed to quell the trouble, with support being sent from other prisons in the Midlands.
Jerry Petherick, managing director for G4S custodial and detention, said the inmates behind the trouble "showed a callous disregard for the safety of prisoners and staff". He added: "Our teams have worked tirelessly throughout the night to assess the damage caused, start the process of clearing up and capture any evidence that could be used by West Midlands Police for any subsequent prosecutions."
The riot represents the third serious disturbance in English prisons in less than two months. On Nov 6, a riot at category B Bedford Prison saw up to 200 inmates go on the rampage, flooding the jail’s gangways. Days earlier, on Oct 29, a national response unit had to be brought in to control prisoners during an incident at HMP Lewes in East Sussex.
It's interesting to reflect on what former Noms boss Phil Wheatley said on Monday in the Guardian:-
Prisons brought to brink of collapse by Tory lord chancellors, says ex-boss
The last three Conservative lord chancellors have been blamed for “bringing the custodial system to the brink of collapse” by the former head of the prison and probation services in England and Wales.
Writing for the Guardian Phil Wheatley, the former chief executive of the National Offender Management Service and director general of the prison service, said it would “take years to put right” but the role of successive Conservative justice secretaries needed to be openly acknowledged and understood “if there is to be any chance of recovering from the current disaster”.
Wheatley explicitly blamed Ken Clarke, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove for bringing the custodial system to a state of “operational disaster” as a direct result of deep budget cuts and wild swings in government policy.
“This current crisis is a failure of major proportions for the government. Managing prisons is a difficult and highly skilled task that requires adequate resourcing and a stable policy environment. Since 2010 the government has failed on both counts,” he wrote.
He said the current lord chancellor, Elizabeth Truss, deserved credit for quickly recognising that prison staffing levels were too low to maintain safety or security, managing to secure Treasury backing to partially reverse jail staffing cuts by recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers, and launching a prison safety reform programme.
The unprecedented intervention by Wheatley, who retired in 2010 and was succeeded by Michael Spurr, highlights deep concern that the prison crisis will not easily be put right – with dire consequences for prisoners, staff and the public.
He said when the coalition came to power in 2010, prisons were already dangerously overcrowded “despite advice on the risks, making it necessary for me to refuse outright to comply with their wishes”. He retired and his successor has had to deal with the bigger challenge of cuts to an unprotected budget compounded by “successive lord chancellors introducing their own radically different policies for prisons”.
Wheatley said Clarke, the first coalition lord chancellor, accepted deep budget cuts for the justice ministry on the basis he could reduce the prison population and put public sector prisons out to tender. But two years later David Cameron removed him for not being seen to be tough on prisoners.
Grayling followed with a brief to be a tough justice secretary without cutting jail numbers and no extra funding. Grayling abandoned the prison competition plans and instead announced his own reform programme across prison and probation. Wheatley said Grayling’s plans “threatened the stability and safety of prisons” but were considered essential to deliver the funding cuts without attracting tabloid criticism in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
According to Wheatley, Gove, the third Conservative lord chancellor, “charmed penal reformers by rubbishing most” of Grayling’s policies. But when Gove proposed his own reform vision of more liberal treatment of prisoners and individual freedom for governors, he ignored the predicament prisons were actually in. A third reorganisation of the NOMS in five years was ordered.
“Gove was, of course, gone before he had to take responsibility for the disruption caused both by his abandonment of Grayling’s policies and his abject failure to engage with their consequences,” said Wheatley.
He said the “operational disaster” that Truss inherited was a result of the continued budget reductions and swings in government policy. He said the result has been the loss of experienced prison managers and staff, too few prison officers of any sort, wages that make it difficult to recruit and retain staff, and cuts in prisoner programmes.
“The situation is now so parlous and will only be resolved by a prolonged period of policy stability and investment. It will take years to put right,” Wheatley wrote. He said the current leaders of the prison service had struggled to deliver what was required of them by politicians who, in turn, had been told what risks they were running.
“The responsibility of ministers in bringing our custodial system to the brink of collapse needs to be understood and openly acknowledged if there is to be any chance of recovering from the current disaster,” he warned.
Finally, something different to ponder on. For quite some time it's puzzled me that the second largest audience for this blog by far, after that from the United Kingdom, appears to come from Russia according to my Blogger analysis. This from the Daily Telegraph:-
It is understood that intelligence officers and senior civil servants across government voiced their concern about the growing scale of the Russian threat during a high-level meeting at the Cabinet Office two months ago. A source with knowledge of the meeting told The Times: "There was an agreement on the need to do more across Whitehall to understand and assess and formulate options on how to respond to Russian activities.”
The Prime Minister is set to chair a National Security Council session within weeks to examine Russian actions towards Britain and its allies and discuss possible responses. It is thought the operations mounted by Moscow agents against Britain are part of a broader drive by the Putin regime to destabilise the West.
Only this week, US intelligence officials disclosed that President Putin was personally involved in a Russian-led hacking campaign to influence the outcome of the American election and assist Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. President Obama yesterday promised to take retaliatory action against Moscow, saying: "We need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing. Don't do this stuff to us, because we can do this to you."
Concerns have now been raised that British companies and institutions have been penetrated by Russian agents, including UK citizens. It emerged last night that several academics at Cambridge University have stepped down from an intelligence forum over fears of Kremlin influence. In a sign of how seriously the situation is regarded by Government figures, the head of the armed forces took the unusual step this week of calling for increased efforts to catch moles.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said: "We ... need to pay more attention to counterespionage and counterintelligence to protect our hard-won research, protect our industry and protect our competitive advantage.” Sir Peach did not specify the nationality of the agents, but the number of Russian spies and "agents of influence" - such as British MPs wooed by the Russians - is thought to be higher than even during the Cold War.
It is understood that military intelligence officials are working more closely with MI5 on Russian issues, including the need to expose spies. Examples of the new Russian offensive are thought to include state-run news outlets, such as RT and Sputnik; spreading propaganda to influence British audiences, in particular over key issues such as Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum.
They also include suspected cyberattacks against British companies and infrastructure, and the deployment of Putin's only aircraft carrier and a fleet of escort ships directly through the English Channel en route to join the bombing campaign in Syria last month.
An expert in Russian affairs and former adviser to the government told The Times: "They [Whitehall] have just woken up to Russia. They are embarrassed to admit it. They don't really know what to do because the logic is we should increase our defence spending and we should create a cross-governmental strategy for defending ourselves against this."
The threat from Russia will be discussed by Mrs May and senior intelligence, military and other officials at one of the first meetings of the National Security Council next year. The Prime Minister is facing calls from security experts to set up a "war cabinet" to respond to Russia’s activities.
Last year, Putin set up a national defence centre, run by military officers, to bring together hybrid weapons of media, economics, politics, cyber and dirty tricks to ensure all activity is carried out in pursuit of an agreed goal, such as the collapse of the European Union and Nato.