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Pentonville Prison 'strike' sees dozens of officers stop work in protest over 'unsafe' conditions

PUBLISHED: 10:14 15 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:23 15 November 2016

Prison officers outside HMP Pentonville this morning. Picture: Scott D'Arcy/PA Wire

Prison officers outside HMP Pentonville this morning. Picture: Scott D'Arcy/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

Dozens of prison officers at HMP Pentonville stopped work today in protest over health and safety concerns.

Prison vans wait to enter Pentonville Prison as the Prison Officers Association (POA) this morning. Picture: Scott D'Arcy/PA WirePrison vans wait to enter Pentonville Prison as the Prison Officers Association (POA) this morning. Picture: Scott D'Arcy/PA Wire

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has directed all its members, including those at the Caledonian Road jail, to take part in a day of protest after negotiations with the Government broke down.

Non-union staff are still working at the prison, where custody vans were seen queuing up this morning.

Steve Gillan, the POA’s general secretary, said as many as 10,000 workers are taking part in what is effectively a strike where they will only provide emergency cover.

The protest, which began at midnight, comes after a string of high-profile incidents at the prison, including an alleged murder and two inmates escaping.

The men, one of whom is a convicted attempted murderer, managed to get out on November 7, sparking a manhunt in which they were eventually recaptured.

Weeks earlier, inmate Jamal Mahmoud, 21, died after being stabbed at the jail on October 18 in an attack that left two others injured.

The strike follows a string of security incidents, including the escape of James Whitlock (left) and Matthew Baker last week. Both men have now been recaptured. Pictures: Met PoliceThe strike follows a string of security incidents, including the escape of James Whitlock (left) and Matthew Baker last week. Both men have now been recaptured. Pictures: Met Police

But the Ministry of Justice claimed the industrial action was unjustified and blasted it as “unlawful”.

Mr Gillan said: “Every prison officer in England is commencing a protest outside their establishment against the disregard for health and safety of our prison officers and prisoners.”

They will provide emergency cover for fires and medical incidents in order to protect prisoners’ well-being, he said.

Prison officers cannot by law take part in a strike and Mr Gillan admitted the day of action will be “interpreted as a strike”.

A union spokesman said: “The POA has consistently raised the volatile and dangerous state of prisons, as chronic staff shortages and impoverished regimes has resulted in staff no longer being safe, a lack of discipline and prisoners taking control of areas.

“The continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm, coupled with the recent [alleged] murder and escapes, demonstrate that the service is in meltdown.”

Jamal Mahmoud, who was killed at Pentonville Prison last month. Picture: Met PoliceJamal Mahmoud, who was killed at Pentonville Prison last month. Picture: Met Police

An MoJ spokesman said: “There is no justification for this action.

“We have been engaged in constructive talks with the POA over the last two weeks and have provided a comprehensive response to a range of health and safety concerns.

“The Government has announced an additional 2,500 frontline officers to help reduce violence in prisons.

“We have well-established contingencies in place to manage prisons and keep the public safe, but we are clear that this constitutes unlawful industrial action, and we will seek remedy in the courts.”

Reporting by Press Association

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