Inside Parc Prison riot as mum says 'friends have died and no one cares'

Annmarie Alders at home
-Credit: (Image: Richard Swingler Photography)

The mother of an inmate at a controversial prison has spoken out on her fears for her son after a day of violence ended with three prisoners in hospital, including one who was allegedly stabbed in the face and neck. The disorder at Bridgend's HMP Parc on Friday allegedly began as a protest by inmates who felt "their friends had died and no one cares".

Annmarie Alders' 26-year-old son Calum Watts is imprisoned at privately-run Parc, which has seen 10 sudden inmate deaths in three months and allegations of rampant drug-dealing and violence. On Saturday morning Ms Alders received information from her son about what he allegedly witnessed on Friday involving other prisoners. Ms Alders, a 48-year-old chef from Cardiff, said: "The riot started at about 4.30pm yesterday. It all happened because the prisoners in there have had enough of G4S [the private firm that runs the prison] and how they're being treated.

"They've watched their friends dying and they can't take any more. [Some prisoners] waited for the officers to leave the wing and threw ping pong tables over, threw cooking oil on the entrance floor. It was because their friends had died and no one cares." Ms Alders claimed the disorder ended after the prison brought in a large team of officers with riot shields and dogs.

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Following a miscommunication in the early hours of Saturday, it is alleged that Morriston Hospital staff wrongly believed one of the prisoners hospitalised was her son, Mr Watts. Ms Alders, who went to the hospital at 4am, claims a staff member told her that the patient — at the time mistakenly believed to be her son — had sustained severe stab wounds to his face, neck and arm, and would need surgery and skin grafts. It was only the next morning that Ms Alders heard from her son that he was unhurt and still in Parc.

According to private security giant G4S, there were two separate incidents on Friday. One involved around 20 prisoners and led to the Prison and Probation Service sending a 'tornado team' — a riot squad — into the jail. The second incident, G4S says, was unrelated and involved "an altercation between three prisoners who required hospital treatment". A G4S spokeswoman added: "Staff at HMP Parc swiftly resolved one short-lived incident and a completely unrelated altercation between three prisoners on Friday, with no officers injured. Those involved will receive the strongest possible punishments, including criminal prosecution."

Family photograph of Calum Watts
Calum Watts -Credit:Richard Swingler Photography

Mr Watts, who is due to be released next February, has been in Parc for around two and a half months after being transferred from Wrexham's Berwyn prison to be nearer his family. Ms Alders said her son has described Parc as making Berwyn "look like a nursery school". She continued: "He said the prisoners run the jail and the officers are the ones bringing the drugs in for the prisoners. People are using spice, but it's been mixed with something." (Some of the recent deaths have been linked to spice laced with super-strength synthetic opioids called nitazenes.)

"I've continuously said to him on the phone, 'Please don't take any of that,'" said Ms Alders. "I don't think I'd ever come back from that. He's been feeling positive — he's been working as the wing barber and after he's released he wants to get qualified as a barber — but he's also said he doesn't ever want to go back to that environment again. It's frightening. The prison is meant to rehabilitate people, my son included. It's short-staffed and overrun, the staff are really young. It's horrendous that people have been dying from drugs."

Annmarie Alders at home
Annmarie Alders -Credit:Richard Swingler Photography

Ms Alders said that when she went to Parc late last night due to her concerns for her son, there were dozens of people sick with worry for family members in the prison. She and others feel "angry with the system" and "overwhelmed" at the thought of their loved ones being in such an environment. Responding to prisons minister Edward Argar's recent claim that Parc is a "safe" and "well-run" jail, Ms Alders said: "I don't think there's anything safe about it. The UK Government has not done enough. It should 100% be taken off G4S."

A South Wales Police spokesman said the force is investigating "three assaults involving serving prisoners" that happened on Friday, adding: "None of the injuries sustained are life-threatening. No arrests have been made at this time with the investigation ongoing and in its early stages.”

It comes after we revealed on Wednesday that Parc's death toll had reached 10 in just over three months. A 38-year-old prisoner, Warren Manners, died suddenly that day in circumstances that police do not believe to be suspicious. We previously revealed allegations from former staff members and prisoners of drug-dealing, violence, corruption, chronic understaffing and a lack of mental health support. Grieving families marched outside the prison on Monday in a demonstration calling for G4S to be stripped of its £400million contract.

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said the privatised model had “utterly failed” at Parc and that "overcrowding means prisons in Wales are more dangerous than ever before". The party is calling for G4S to lose its contract and for devolved control of services at all Welsh prisons, which it says would allow health and social policy to be aligned with justice.

Asked whether Labour would nationalise Parc if the party won the general election, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said: “The recent spate of deaths at HMP Parc raises serious concerns about the state of the prison system and I extend my condolences to every family affected. We are witnessing a crisis across our prison estate, and it is a crisis that has been made by 14 years of Conservative rule in Westminster. While the individual deaths should be investigated separately, it is crystal clear change is needed."

Earlier this month the prisons minister Edward Argar said there were no plans to remove the contract from G4S. He said four out of nine recent sudden deaths at Parc were believed to be drug-related, four were not, and one was "potentially so". Two of the deaths, he said, were thought to be from natural causes. A woman who recently worked at the prison told us: "The prison was ultimately run by the prisoners, with officers being paid to bring in contraband items. The enhanced red band prisoners, who were able to roam, would then ferry these items across the prison."

Police recently arrested a Parc employee on suspicion of smuggling in contraband. The 36-year-old man is the fourth person within two months to have been arrested in connection with illicit items or drugs allegedly brought into Parc. Although Mr Argar told Parliament that the contract "continues to perform well", he did say the UK Government has issued an improvement notice on G4S for urgent action on Parc's security.

G4S denied the claim that some prisoners are running the jail. Its spokeswoman said: “We are actively tackling the multiple ways that drugs enter the prison from the wider community while continuously strengthening our security measures to protect prisoners from these dangerous substances. Frontline prison officers across the UK provide an essential public service often in very challenging environments. Our officers continue to care for prisoners in Parc to a high standard. We remain resolute in maintaining and upholding the highest levels of care, and our focus is on supporting our employees who ensure prisoners have access to education, and a work regime designed to address their offending behaviour. They also ensure medical, mental health and drug recovery treatments are available.”

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