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1990: Rioting inmates take over Strangeways
Up to 1,000 prisoners are running amok in Strangeways Prison in Manchester in a violent riot in which at least three prisoners are reported to have been killed.

The rioting began this morning during a service in the prison chapel, attended by about 300 inmates. It is believed the action may have been planned in advance as a protest against conditions at the jail.

Prisoners quickly gained access to the chapel roof and broke into the living accommodation in the main prison.

The inmates have taken up positions on the main prison roof, tearing off slates and pelting prison officers, police and emergency services with them.

They have set fire to the chapel and gymnasium, and wrecked prison cells.


One man appeared with a loudspeaker, shouting, "We are having no more. We are not animals, we are human beings."

Police in full riot gear are surrounding the jail. Manchester ambulance service said about 50 injured prison officers, prisoners and police were taken to hospital.

The Home Office said staff had regained control of E-wing, a block for sex offenders and one of the first to be attacked, by 2100 GMT. A spokesman said "no seriously injured inmates were found".

He estimated there were still up to 700 prisoners loose in the jail.

'War zone'

The General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, David Evans, described conditions inside the prison as "a war zone".

"It is impossible for the officers to get into certain sections and establish the exact number of casualties because the prisoners have control and they are attacked and pelted with missiles," he said.

Several observers blamed what they called "primitive" conditions inside the jail for the outbreak of violence.

Bob Litherland, the Labour MP for Manchester Central, said he and other MPs had sent a warning about Strangeways to the Home Office.

"We stressed to the Home Secretary that overpopulation and under-manning in this prison were ingredients for disaster," he said.

Strangeways Prison, built for about 1,000 men but now housing more than 1,600, is one of the most overcrowded in Europe.

Inmates are routinely housed three to a one-person cell. The most dangerous prisoners spend up to 23 hours a day in Victorian-built cells without any proper sanitation.

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Prisoners on Strangeways roof
Prisoners occupied the roof of the prison, hurling slates onto police below

In Context
The riot at Strangeways turned into a siege lasting 25 days - the longest in British penal history.

Early reports of high casualties proved unfounded. Two men died - one prisoner, and a prison officer. Almost 200 inmates and staff were injured.

The prison was damaged so badly it cost 55 million to rebuild. It has since been renamed HMP Manchester.

A major inquiry into the riot was set up under a senior judge, Lord Woolf.

He said severe overcrowding was to blame, and recommended several practices should end, including "slopping out" and putting prisoners two or three to a cell.

Slopping out - the use of chamber pots in cells without sanitation - officially came to an end in 1996, although it still continues in some parts of the prison service.

A major prison building programme has now begun in an effort to solve the continuing problem of overcrowding.

Meanwhile, the prison population has been steadily rising.

In 1990, there were 45,000 prisoners in England and Wales. By 2005 there were more than 73,000.

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