Booze riots at open prison spark.. INFERNO.
A PRISON was engulfed in flames yesterday after inmates went on the rampage.
Windows were smashed and fires started at Ford open prison near Arundel, Sussex, after guards tried to breathalyse convicts to check for contraband alcohol.
Only two prison officers and four support staff were on duty at the time to manage a prison population of up to 290 inmates.
Prison Officers Association deputy general secretary Mark Freeman said the fires destroyed six accommodation blocks, a snooker room, a pool room, a gym block and a mail room.
He added: "In the early hours, staff tried to breathalyse a number of prisoners because they suspected they had been drinking. Forty bottles of alcohol have been found empty.
"When the prisoners refused to be breathalysed, they became violent along with other prisoners. This is a prison mutiny."
It is thought that around 40 inmates took part in the rampage, with those from the prison's B wing taking the lead.
Rioters wearing home-made balaclavas to hide their identities, began smashing windows and activating fire alarms.
They then started to set buildings alight.
Riot police and specialist prison officers were brought in, in an attempt to regain control.
A Prison Service spokesman said: "The fire brigade has been into the prison and the fires have been contained."
He added: "The causes of the disturbance will be subject to an investigation."
But Mr Freeman claimed insufficient staffing levels were partly to blame, adding: "It's very difficult when you have a very small staff, which they did last night."
He said that all of the rioters had now been detained, with six having been identified as the ringleaders.
Three of these were being held and were being transferred to another jail.
The loss of the accommodation blocks meant that about 160 inmates would have to be transferred to other prisons.
Mr Freeman said alcohol had been a concern at the open prison, with dozens of empty bottles found in recent days.
Mr Freeman likened previous attempts to test inmates for alcohol to "a scene out of Benny Hill", adding: "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."
Going up in smoke: Inmates evacuate Ford Prison yesterday, left, as scores of riot police move in to quell the riot