Eleven men standing trial for mutiny at High Down prison felt “banged-up like kippers” as a result of austerity measures introduced by the Government last year.
The young men, who were all inmates at the Banstead prison last October, sat together in the dock at Blackfriars Crown Court today.
They are charged with taking part in a prison mutiny and causing criminal damage on October 21 and 22 last year.
They stand accused of “engaging in conduct intended to further a common purpose of overthrowing lawful authority at High Down prison”.
All 11 pleaded not guilty to all of the alleged offences.
In his opening statement to the jury, Mark Seymour, prosecuting, said a mutiny began at 5.30pm on October 21 last year when a group of prisoners, including the defendants, refused to return to their cells when instructed to do so by a prison officer.
Mr Seymour said: “Officer Williams said ‘they were saying f***off, we want our association, we are not going behind our doors’.”
The court heard how the defendants then moved to the landing above and filed into a cell on that floor, B317, before barricading the door with a bunk bed and other furniture.
Mr Seymour said: “There was a demand note under the door.
“It read: ‘The reason for these capers is we are not getting enough food, exercise, showers or gym and we want to see the governor lively’ and that they were ‘not getting any association and banged up like kippers’.”
The jury of five women and seven men heard how the prisoners stayed in the cell for the next seven-and-a-half hours.
Mr Seymour said: “It was not a peaceful protest in any shape or form.
“The cell was totally trashed. The furniture in the cell was totally destroyed through to the sink which had been smashed off the wall leaving shards of porcelain everywhere.”
The court was told that the defendants made claims of having a gun, made reference to a hostage being taken and that there were threats of a ‘dirty protest’.
The prisoners were also allegedly setting fire to items inside the cell and washing-up liquid was seeping from underneath the cell door.
The jury heard how two negotiators were apparently spat on during the incident and that one of the defendants said: “he was pissed-off as they were being treated like animals”.
The barrister added: “He wasn’t happy with the lack of showers. He said he had tried to complain but wasn’t being listened to and the protest was to get the governor’s attention.”
Mr Seymour said that when 40 specialist officers arrived at the cell in riot gear, including a team known as the Tornadoes, at 12.45am, they opened the door and “the prisoners didn’t come quietly”.
He told the court: “When officers removed the door to the cell there was an attack on the officers with homemade weapons.
“They [the defendants] succeeded in secluding and overthrowing lawful authority in the prison at the time.”
The barrister said the prisoners were given the opportunity to surrender on several occasions, but they refused.
He said the prisoners did not want to speak to the custodial manager, who made contact through the cell’s observation hatch, and that she was told: ‘We don’t want to speak to the monkey, we want to speak to the organ grinder’.
Mr Seymour said Peter Gafney and Martin Prince, who were considered the group’s ringleaders, also made three demands – to see the governor, “to get some burn [cigarettes]” and to go to the gym.
The barrister said that an authorised phone call made half-an-hour before the incident begun, by Mr Rowe, indicated that the alleged mutiny was pre-planned.
Mr Seymour said: “During the course of the conversation, Mr Rowe made reference to ‘a little madness was due to happen soon’ and that the prison system was violating his rights.”
He said other prisoners started “acting up” inside High Down, mirroring what was going on inside cell B317.
Opened in 1992, High Down is a category B local prison for men which mainly houses defendants awaiting trial or directly after conviction, who do not require maximum security but are still deemed to be a danger to the public.
Providing the jury with background to the alleged mutiny, Mr Seymour said: “During 2013 a scheme known as New Ways of Working was introduced in the prison driven by prison service management in line with Government austerity measures and was a requirement for all prisons in the UK.
“It came into effect on 1 September 2013, some six weeks before the incident.
“The purpose was to make High Down prison more efficient from a government perspective, a significant reduction in the number of staff and a more restrictive regime for prisoners.
“There were fewer staff to carry out day-to-day activities.
“Staff shortages and a revised timetable led to changes in the core daily timetable and meant prisoners were locked up for longer periods during the day.
“There had been complaints about this from prisoners. It’s clear there was a degree of adaptation taking place in the prison.”
The defendants are Martin Prince, Cory Stewart, Peter Gafney, Oshane Gayle, Callum Hollingsworth, Sam Davies, Anuar Niyongaba, Jordan Rowe, Charlie Dempster, Nathaniel Johnson and Nicholas Carlton.
Two of them were absent at today’s proceedings. Of the remaining defendants, some are in still custody, while two are on bail.
The trial, being heard before Judge Blacksell QC and expected to last three to four weeks, continues.