Nineteen inmates broke out of their cells by using furniture to smash through “weak points” in the walls of a Victorian prison.
Police and specially trained prison officers rushed to HMP Winchester, in Hampshire, on Tuesday night after the inmates managed to escape.
Four inmates are said to have used furniture to break “weak points” in the walls of their cells in B wing after manipulating mortar around the doors.
Initial reports said the escapees used plastic spoons smuggled from the kitchen to unpick the mortar – but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has since dismissed this claim.
The inmates reportedly then convinced 15 other prisoners on the same wing to break out of their cells.
There was one prison officer guarding the wing at the time – something the MoJ says is standard practice when inmates are locked in their cells overnight.
No one was injured during the incident, however four prisoners were taken to hospital as a precaution.
Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, claimed the trade union had warned about similar incidents over the last year.
He tweeted: “The @POA committee have been highlighting these security breaches for at least the last 12 months. They also use plastic spoons to break out.
“Nobody listened then but guess what? They are listening to us now.”
The wing has been shut down and the 19 prisoners who broke out have been transferred to other jails along with the other 150 prisoners on the wing, according to The Telegraph.
The MoJ said those involved would face prison adjudication hearings and a police investigation.
A full assessment of the whole prison, built in 1846, will also be carried out to prevent similar incidents from happening, it added.
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A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Our highly-skilled staff successfully resolved an isolated incident at HMP Winchester on Tuesday night with no injuries to staff or prisoners.
“We are working closely with the police and will push for the strongest possible punishment for those involved – including more time behind bars.
“We are urgently taking action to improve and modernise.”
The prison’s most recent Independent Monitoring Board report in September 2018 said cells “regularly need repair” and that living and working conditions are “extremely poor”.