Up to 300 riot officers stormed HMP Birmingham and won back control from 600 mutinous inmates 12 hours after the worst prison disturbance since 1990.
At least two wings, the pharmacy, gym and the exercise yard of Winson Green in Birmingham were in the hands of criminals after the prison went into lockdown at 9am on Friday morning.
Fire spread inside the G4S-run prison as rioters gave a running commentary on the violent disorder – branded the worst in Britain since the Strangeways riot in 1990 – using mobile phones already smuggled into their cells.
But more than 12 hours after inmates overran the jail, prison officers took back control at about 10.30pm yesterday, the Ministry of Justice said.
Screaming inmates were heard earlier shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ as they ran away from thick black smoke which filled corridors and cells.
Distraught relatives said their loved ones, who were without food and medicine, hung outside of windows calling for help.
G4S said one prisoner suffered a broken jaw and eye socket during the riot.
All prison staff were accounted for and none were injured, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said.
The scale of the disorder forced G4S to hand control of the Category B jail to the Prison Service.
Rioting prisoners sprayed Tornado teams – made up of former SAS soldiers and specialist officers – with paint, covering their helmets. Fire hoses were used as weapons and security gates were rammed with a heavy metal food trolley.
An extra 80 prison and Tornado officers backed by police dogs were sent on Friday night to HMP Birmingham – Britain’s third largest prison. Prisoners were heard shouting ‘we want food’ and had let off firecrackers off.
Tornado teams are sent to prisons to deal with major disturbances alongside firefighters and paramedics in riot gear. Roads were closed as police sealed the prison’s perimeter.
Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, said the situation will be investigated thoroughly: ‘This was a serious situation and a thorough investigation will now be carried out. Violence in our prisons will not be tolerated and those responsible will face the full force of the law.’
The latest disturbance is the third in English prisons in less than two months.
One relative said her brother, who is a prisoner in HMP Birmingham, was ‘screaming for help’ during the riot.
‘The smoke is that thick on the landing that he can’t breathe,’ she said. ‘He said it is absolute chaos. He is screaming for help and they are not doing anything.’
The water supply to the prison was turned back on so prisoners could combat the spreading fires.
The chaos inside was revealed in social media photos showing two heavily-tattooed grinning inmates wearing helmets and clutching riot shields while swearing in selfies.
Another extraordinary image showed the keys taken from an officer threatened with a dirty syringe and an inmate smashing a door with a baton.
The pictures were posted on Twitter with the caption ‘HMP Birmingham it’s going off, the lags are taking over’, then deleted within seconds.
Up to 600 men ‘smashed up’ and started fires in the Victorian jail because there has been no TV to watch and the gym is closed.
One source talking to the rioters said the prisoners had taken control of the gym and they were trying to take control of the health care.’
Speaking last night, the source said: ‘They’ve taken control of the N and P wings. They are close to the G wing which is where the vulnerable prisoners including mainly sex offenders are. If they get into the G wing then it will cause uproar and there will be people killed tonight’.
More than 1,000 inmates were put in lockdown after trouble erupted. G4S officers were said to have been threatened and two are injured, one with a broken arm and another with a head injury. There were also reports of a ‘badly injured’ prisoner with a ‘slashed’ neck.
Prison affairs academic Alex Cavendish said an ‘inside informant’ told him the trouble started with lights being broken and inmates controlling fire hoses.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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’.
He said that once prisoners have control of the keys, protocol tells the officers to ‘withdraw to a place of safety’ and said they ‘abandoned the wing’ where the incident started.
The 53-year-old said inmates had gained access to the offender management unit (OMU), where their paper records are stored. He added some were burnt during the riot.
One prisoner said at the time: ‘The guards have completely lost control. The TV antenna has been broken and we have not been able to watch TV for a couple of days now’.
One unnamed inmate added: ‘I have been in riots before and this is, by far, the worst I’ve come across’, while another prisoner on P Wing said: ‘They cancel gym all the time, the showers are cold, the food is c**p, the heating is never on and we never get our mail on time. We’ve had enough’.
Another said: ‘It’s a dangerous place at the moment. People are walking around with knives and G4S have no control.’
The Government has warned that rioters will have their sentences extended.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said earlier: ‘We are absolutely clear that prisoners who behave in this way will be punished and could spend significantly longer behind bars.’