Oral statement to Parliament

Statement to Commons on HMP Birmingham

Statement by The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on the disturbance at HMP Birmingham.

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the serious disturbance at HMP Birmingham on Friday.

I want to begin by paying tribute to the bravery and dedication of the prison officers who resolved this difficult situation.

I also want to give thanks to West Midlands Police, who supported the Prison Service throughout the day, and to the ambulance crews and the fire service who also provided assistance.

Sequence of events

This was a serious disturbance. I have ordered a full investigation and have appointed Sarah Payne – adviser to the independent Chief Inspector of Probation and former Director of the Welsh Prison Service – to lead this work.

I do not want to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation. As we currently understand it, at 9.15am on Friday at HMP Birmingham 6 prisoners in N wing climbed onto netting.

When staff intervened, one of them had their keys snatched. At that point, staff withdrew for their own safety. Prisoners then gained control of the wing, and subsequently of P Wing.

G4S immediately deployed two Tornado teams. At 11:20, Gold Command was opened, and a further seven additional Tornado teams were dispatched to the prison.

At 1:30pm, prisoners gained access to two more wings. Gold Command made the decision that further reinforcements were needed and dispatched an additional four Tornado teams to the prison.

At 2.35pm, the police and Prison Service secured the perimeter of all four wings, which remained secure throughout the day.

Shortly after 3pm, there were reports of an injured prisoner. Paramedics and staff tried to intervene but were prevented from doing so by prisoners.

During the afternoon, a robust plan was prepared to take back control of the wings, minimising the risk to staff and prisoners. It is important that in this type of situation the right resources are in place before acting.

At 8.35pm, ten Tornado teams of highly trained officers swept through the wings. Shortly after 10pm, the teams had secured all four wings. The prisoner who had previously been reported injured was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital, along with two other prisoners.

Throughout the day, the Prisons Minister and I chaired regular cross-government calls to make necessary preparations and to ensure the Prison Service had all the support it needed.

I want to thank the Tornado teams, prison officers and emergency services for their exemplary work.

As I have said before, levels of violence are too high in our prisons. We also have very concerning levels of self-harm and deaths in custody. That is why we are reforming our prisons to be safe and purposeful places and taking swift action to deal with drugs, drones and phones.

It is important to remember that these problems have developed over a number of years and it will take time and it will take concerted effort to turn the situation round.

Managing risk in the short-term

Whilst these reforms take hold, we are continually working to reduce risk and ensure stability across the prison estate.

The Prison Service is leading Gold Command to collect intelligence, deploy resources and in particular manage the movement of prisoners. This includes managing two incidents at Hull yesterday morning, which were quickly dealt with by staff.

To date we have moved 380 prisoners out of Birmingham and we continue to assess the level of damage on the wings.

The Prisons Minister chairs daily meetings with the Chief Executive and senior members of the Prison Service to monitor prisons for risk factors that might indicate potential violence and unrest.

Where necessary, we are providing governors with immediate and targeted support, ranging from extra staff and resources through to the transfer of difficult prisoners and speeding up repairs or replacements to facilities.

Delivering reform

As we manage the difficult situation we have currently, we are implementing our reform programme – which will reduce violence and cut the £15bn cost of reoffending, as laid out in the White Paper.

  • In September, we rolled out tests for dangerous psychoactive drugs in prison. We are the first country to do this.
  • We are rolling our new technology starting with three prisons to prevent mobile phone use.
  • We are recruiting for a new £3 million national intelligence unit to crack down on gang crime.

We are increasing staffing levels by 2,500 officers and we are taking steps to train and retain our valued staff.

This includes a new apprenticeship programme, a graduate entry scheme, fast track promotions and retention payments – and we are putting an extra £100m into this.

We are modernising our estate with a £1.3bn investment programme.

And we are empowering governors to manage their regimes locally to get people off drugs, get them the skills they need and get them into work.

Importantly, for the first time ever, in the Prison and Courts Bill next year we will be making clear that the purpose of prisons is not just about housing prisoners, but also reforming them.

Together, these reforms are the right way to address the issues in our prisons so that they become purposeful places where offenders get off drugs and get the education and skills they need to find work and turn their back on crime for good.

The issues in our prisons are longstanding and they are not going to be completely solved in weeks or even months.

We are working to ensure our prisons are stable while we deliver our reforms.

Of course this is a major task. I am committed to this, so is the Prison Service, and I know that governors and prison officers are as well.

The next few months will be difficult, but I am confident we can turn this situation around, we can turn our prisons in to places of safety and reform – and this is my absolute priority as Secretary of State.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 19 December 2016