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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Strangeways: Ten years on
Strangeways riot
Prisoners established their stronghold on the prison roof
With British prisons facing criticism for overcrowding and squalid conditions, the events of the Strangeways riot - which broke out 10 years ago this week - are back in the spotlight.

The worst riot to hit the British penal system began on 1 April 1990 in the unlikely location of the Victorian prison's chapel.

It raged for 25 days, claiming the lives of two men and making headlines around the world.

The wave of destruction commenced shortly after 10.25am, when the Reverend Noel Proctor found himself facing an unusually large and restless congregation at his Sunday service.

As he delivered his sermon, one of his 300-strong audience, Paul Taylor a 28-year-old Liverpudlian, snatched the microphone and set into motion the events which would cause more than 60m worth of damage.


Strangeways riot
Police were greeted by a hail of missiles
"This gentleman has spoken about the blessings of the heart," said Taylor. "He has spoken about how Jesus can take away the hardness from your heart. I would like to touch on how prison brutalises you."

Minutes later Strangeways was in the hands of the prisoners, angry at their treatment by the authorities.

With only 100 guards to control up to 1,647 inmates, the struggle was one-sided. Fires were started in parts of the building as dozens of prisoners scrambled onto the roof.

As a helicopter hovered overhead, police reinforcements were met with a bombardment of slates.

'Kill the beasts'

Before long attention was turned to the prison's C and E wings, home to alleged sex offenders awaiting trial.

Sex offenders were seen as the lowest of the low among prisoners - they were "beasts", "monsters" or "nonces".

Cries of "kill the beasts" were heard as the alleged paedophiles were beaten and kicked.

Later, rumours circulated suggesting many had been tortured, killed and dismembered. In truth, only one prisoner, 46-year-old David White, lost his life as a result of injuries received in the purges.

On the second day, as the world's press gathered outside, prisoners wearing blankets and balaclavas returned to the roof to establish what was to become the siege's stronghold.

Below, officers in riot gear fought to gain control of four of the nine accommodation wings.

On the third day violence gave way to negotiation with many inmates beginning to talk of surrender.

An independent observer, Mike Unger, editor of the Manchester Evening News, was allowed into the building to verify that reports of widespread carnage had been exaggerated.

As the days progressed a steady trickle of prisoners gave themselves up, until only a hardcore of protesters remained.

Taylor, now identified as the ringleader, used a traffic-cone megaphone to broadcast his messages to the world.


Strangeways riot
The siege ended after 25 days
Quoting erratically from Marx, Byron and Shakespeare, he lambasted the "arrogant and ignorant attitudes" of the staff and defended the protest which he insisted had only been planned as a peaceful sit-in.

He also issued a message of condolence to the family of Walter Scott, a prison officer who had died of a heart attack.

The authorities responded by cutting off the electricity supply, spraying the roof with cold water and playing loud pop music non-stop to wear down the prisoners' resolve.

But they held out for almost a month, continuing to hurl both missiles and abuse.

The last five men to surrender were eventually carried from the roof in a hydraulic "cherry picker" on 25 April.

As Taylor, the last man down, climbed aboard he raised a clenched fist in a final gesture of defiance.

He was later given more time in jail after being convicted of rioting.

When the dust had settled two men were dead, 194 inmates and staff had been injured, the prison - which has since been renamed HMP Manchester - was gutted and needed rebuilding at a cost of 55m.

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See also:

27 Mar 00 | UK
'Tension mounts' in jails
29 Aug 98 | UK
Two die at Strangeways
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