Crack prison squad deployed to jail in Doncaster nearly every month last year

HMP Lindholme
HMP Lindholme

An elite group of specially-trained prison officers was deployed to a jail in Doncaster nearly every month last year.

Members of the crack National Tactical Response Group (NTRG) were sent to jails in England and Wales 580 times last year, with HMP Lindholme seeking assistance in nearly every month of the year.

The team was called out to incidents ranging from a full-scale riot at Birmingham's Winson Green jail to hostage situations.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the number of call-outs to prisons has increased year-on-year.

The Prison Officers' Association said the data showed the 'reality' of prisons needing national support 'to maintain security and control' after what it claims have been 'year-on-year budget cuts'.

Labour claims the data underlined that 'counter-productive' cuts to the prison service under the Conservative Government had led to 'an epidemic of violence' in the country's jails.

But the Ministry of Justice said the 'majority' of the deployments were to non-violent incidents, and often precautionary.

In 2010, the NTRG squad was called to jails 118 times in total, but in 2014 there were 223 call-outs, and in 2015 the number had risen to more than 340.

The 40-strong squad was deployed 110 times between January and April this year - the most recent figures available.

Those incidents included occasions of 'concerted indiscipline', 'barricade' events and 'incidents at height', which can mean anything from prisoners on a cell-block's anti-suicide netting to inmates on an internal roof.

During their busiest month in May 2016, the NTRG was sent out 67 separate times to 39 different jails, dealing with inmate disorder, hostage events and incidents at height, among others.

In the case of two jails - HMP Lindholme in Doncaster and HMP Nottingham - the specialists had to be called in nearly every month of that year.

Lindholme, on the site of a former Royal Air Force base, opened in 1985 and is a Category C prison.

It can house 1,010 inmates and takes men over 21 who are serving sentences of four or more years.

Separately, figures show deployments of the so-called Tornado teams - which are separate to NTRG and speclialise in high scale disorder - happened 19 times last year compared to 15 in 2015 and seven in 2010.

In the seven months to July this year, Tornado squads were sent to 10 incidents.

A Prison Officers' Association spokesman said: "The POA are not shocked by the numbers of call-outs as this demonstrates that prisons are in need of national support to maintain security and control.

"However the figures can be distorted due to some call-outs requiring nationally-trained staff.

"The reality is that year-on-year budget cuts has reduced staff and as a result prisoners feel more in charge as organised crime continues to increase."

Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: "These figures underline how counter-productive the Tories' cuts to the prison service have been.

"Deployment of these costly riot squads has soared following the Government's decision to axe thousands of prison officers, which has created an epidemic of violence in our prisons.

"This dangerous situation is likely to go from bad to worse given that a quarter of the prisons that the MoJ itself rates as being of concern have experienced a further cut in prison officer numbers over the past year."

An Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We have specially trained teams that provide support to prisons on a range of incidents - from offenders climbing onto an internal roof to a large scale disturbance.

"The majority of call outs are for non-violent incidents when the officers only attend as a precaution or when the situation was already resolved by prison staff."

The MoJ previously announced the recruitment of 2,500 extra prison officers and security measures to tackle the problem of drones, organised crime in jails, and smuggling of contraband.