Published: 15:14, 14 May 2021
| Updated: 16:50, 14 May 2021
It is every prison officer's worst nightmare when inmates take over a jail. John Nurden and Paul Hooper recreate the terrifying night HMP Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey was hit by a riot...
Violence comes with the job of policing Britain's prisons. One minute everything is fine and then all hell can break loose.
One of the wings at HMP Swaleside, Sheppey
It is every prison officer's nightmare but that's what happened when inmates mutinied at HMP Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey.
A court heard how fridge freezers, washing machines and a snooker table were used by inmates to barricade themselves into a TV room during a four-hour stand-off during.
They ripped down ceilings, pulled CCTV cameras off the wall and left a trail of damage which cost £160,000 to put right.
Prosecutor Simon Taylor QC told Maidstone Crown Court on Monday that after "a rampage of damage, disobedience and disorder" bosses at the Category B men's jail finally sent in a squad of specially-trained anti-riot officers known as the Tornadoes. They stormed the wing with thunderflashes, pepper spray and dogs.
Mr Taylor told the jury: “It may be accurate to say that the officers met this unknown threat by the deployment of shock and awe tactics. They didn’t politely ask the prisoners to comply. They made them comply. After four hours of rampage it was clear that polite requests would fall of deaf ears."
During the night of the riot, staff had to be evacuated from the wing for their own safety as fires were lit. Ambulances and fire engines were kept on standby outside the prison entrance at in Brabazon Road, Eastchurch.
The court heard trouble began after two inmates on the south spur of E Wing clashed during a failed stabbing.
Mr Taylor said: “They then broke out and engaged in what can only be described as a rampage of damage, disobedience and disorder. CCTV shows the prisoners smashing their way out of the TV room using a fridge freezer.
“What is clear from footage is that many prisoners had armed themselves with improvised weapons made from the fixtures and fittings of the TV room."
The jury was shown video footage of a prison officer pleading with an inmate to “do the right thing” but was met with the response: “No surrender... no mercy!” Another officer was told that if someone got inside he would be “fed to the lions.”
Mr Taylor said the Tornadoes had no idea what they were to face, as prisoners had destroyed the wing's CCTV cameras.
All the while, relatives of staff, many of whom live on or near the Island, waited at home, frantic with worry, desperately hoping none of their loved ones had been caught up in the violence. There were real fears officers could be taken hostage.
Although many prisoners keep their heads down and try to serve out their time quietly, there are always men eager for action. There have been horrendous tales of violence behind locked cell doors and the injuries inflicted by crudely-made but devastatingly effective weapons.
The officers who make up Operation Tornado - known in prison-speak as CNR for Control and Restraint - are highly trained. On residential courses they have real petrol bombs thrown at them so they can "feel the heat." But they never know exactly what they might face on a real shout.
One former member, who did not want to be identified, said: "We are all regular officers but when we get an emergency call asking for help from another prison we drop everything. We arrive in our gear but there is always a lot of waiting around as Gold Command decides what to do. Negotiation is always the first objective to get them to surrender. There is noise coming from the wing and our prison dogs are barking.
"When we were told to go in, it was like the apocalypse. The noise was deafening and it was dark. The lights had been pulled from the ceiling and live power cables were hanging down and sparking. We had no idea if someone was waiting around a corner to attack. I've heard of cases where paint is thrown on visors so we can't see and oil poured over the floor to make us slip.
"There is a lot of shouting. We set off thunderflashes and pyrotechnics. There is smoke everywhere and we have to climb over tables and chairs which are piled up to make barricades. We also have to be wary of broken glass. And all the time you can hear your heart pounding loudly. It is a terrifying situation but the adrenalin keeps you on your toes."
Although the rumpus kicked off on December 3, 2017, we can only now report on four separate trials after successfully persuading the judge to lift a publication ban.
This week Gavin Aina, 43, and Michael Latham, 41, both denied taking part in the mutiny and were found not guilty at Maidstone Crown Court. But Aina admitted criminal damage and was given a six-week sentence. His defence lawyer Danny Moore insisted his client had "not willingly participated" in the riot. Latham was represented by Emin Kandola.
A third prisoner, Marvin McLean, 36, pleaded guilty to mutiny at a previous trial and is yet to be sentenced.
Thirteen other inmates have appeared in court over the past two years, charged with mutiny in connection with the riot, and have been sentenced to a total of more than 37 years extra time. One was given four years.
Brian Decktor, 33, and Jamal Green, 27, were acquitted on the same mutiny charges at two earlier hearings. Barrister Emin Kandola said Decktor told how he had been under duress from other inmates. Green denied being involved in trying to overthrow the prison guards but was convicted of criminal damage and received a nine months in jail, to run consecutively with his original sentence
Around 1,100 men live at Swaleside across eight wings. There had been a previous riot in December 2016 when video showed up to 120 prisoners involved in the disturbance with a 60-man hardcore taking over the A Wing.
The Ministry of Justice said it would not be commenting on the trial.
How the rioters were sentenced:
Gavin Aina - damaging property, six weeks imprisonment to start from sentencing date of May 10, 2021;
Daniel Allen - prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to 28 months consecutive to sentence serving;
Anthony Bulmer - prison mutiny, damaging property, failing to surrender to court/police, sentenced to four years and eight weeks jail term consecutive to sentence serving;
Jamal Ferguson - prison mutiny, sentenced to three-and-a-half years consecutive to minimum term;
Malhi Ferguson - prison mutiny, sentenced to three-and-a-half years consecutive to minimum term;
Kenny Garcia - prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to 32 months consecutive to sentence serving;
Jamal Green - damaging property, sentenced to nine months consecutive to minimum term;
Owen Lane – prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to 30 months consecutive to extended sentence;
Marcus McIntosh - prison mutiny, sentenced to two-and-a-half years consecutive to sentence serving;
Marvin McLean - prison mutiny and damaging property, still to be sentenced, no sentencing date as of yet;
Mohammed Mohammed - prison mutiny, sentenced to three-and-half years, consecutive to sentence serving;
Marcus Moore - prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to three-and-a-half years consecutive to extended sentence;
Louis Quatre - prison mutiny, damaging property and criminal damage, sentenced to two years consecutive to sentence serving;
Samuel Simone - prison mutiny, sentenced to two-and-a-half years consecutive to sentence serving;
Colin Weeding - prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to 18 months consecutive to sentence serving;
John Woodfield - prison mutiny and damaging property, sentenced to 30 months consecutive to sentence serving.