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Swaleside prison to get visit from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling after officer slashed across face with blade

Top politicians are set to visit Sheppey after a major disturbance in which a prison officer was slashed across the face with a blade.

The incident began just after 5.30pm on Friday when a series of “small fires” were started at HMP Swaleside, Brabazon Road, Eastchurch.

The injured officer was taken to hospital and later discharged.

Kent Fire and Rescue were called to Swaleside prison
Kent Fire and Rescue were called to Swaleside prison

Two prisoners climbed onto netting strung between walkways designed to stop items being thrown to the ground.

The Home Office dispatched its specialist Tornado unit to the jail, a group of officers specially trained to quell prison riots.

Accommodation areas are believed to have been damaged, and fire crews used breathing gear to enter the prison and extinguish the flames.

Now Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has agreed to visit one of the prisons on Sheppey.

It is understood his Labour shadow, Sadiq Khan, is also planning to attend a meeting on Sheppey to discuss the prisons at the request of parliamentary candidate Guy Nicholson.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it was an “isolated incident” and was resolved at about 10.30pm with two prisoners involved later kept in segregation.

Other prisoners were confined until the situation was brought under control.

Trouble at HMP Swaleside has been blamed on understaffing
Trouble at HMP Swaleside has been blamed on understaffing

Prison Officers’ Association (POA) representative for London and Kent, Mike Rolfe, said he had spoken with the union’s chairman for Swaleside, David Todd, about the incident.

He reported that more than two prisoners were involved to begin with and the disturbance was “drink and drug fuelled”.

The prison officer, who was on detached duty from Dover but had worked in the jail before, was assaulted by four inmates.

The cut was across the scalp, Mr Rolfe said, narrowly missing a major artery which could have killed him while he also received other bruises and puncture marks to his back.

He said: “This is a clear indication that there are not enough staff and prison officers.
“They do not have enough time to carry out the appropriate cell checks for illegal weapons and alcohol.

“That is really down to budget cuts and that is the reality of it.”

He added prisons across the south east are facing an “ever increasing crisis” as they are struggling to make up the staff shortfall as experienced workers are leaving the service at a faster rate than they can find new recruits.

Swaleside Prison in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey
Swaleside Prison in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey

He said this was partly down to potential employees not wanting to risk their lives for salaries as low as £18,000 and they are instead opting for safer jobs in the same pay range, such as in retail.

Improved pay and better safety conditions were needed to stop violent incidents from happening, he said.

An MoJ spokesman denied there was a staffing problem and said: “The wing of the prison where the incident took place was fully-staffed.”

Just a week ago, Swaleside was slammed by HM Inspectorate of Prisons which said staff shortages were affecting “every area” of the category B training jail.

Serious issues raised by the report included a number of serious assaults on staff and inmates, with some prisoners too frightened to leave their cells.

Last month another report by an Independent Monitoring Board raised concern over the number of weapons found at the prison.

The National Offender Management Service said the prison has been supplementing officers with temporary staff in an attempt to fill vacancies.

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