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36-years jail for Birmingham prison riot ringleaders

Five prison inmates who sparked a riot inside HMP Birmingham last year that caused damage estimated at three million pounds have been jailed for a total of 36 years

John Burton, Luke Mansell, Ross Wilkinson, Robert Smith and Nathan Weston acted as ringleaders during the disturbance on 16 December last year, instigating the trouble and urging others to join the rampage. 

Hundreds of prisoners escaped during the disorder – after Smith snatched cell keys from a guard – which lasted 12 hours before specialist Prison Service ‘Tornadoes’ and West Midlands Police public order trained officers stormed the prison to regain control. 

They left behind a trail of destruction: staff offices were gutted in fires started by the rioters, computer equipment destroyed, windows and lights smashed, and paint thrown across walls and floors. It was the worst prison disorder since the Strangeways riot in 1990.

Rioters Luke Mansell and John Burton - each jailed for 9 years
Rioters Luke Mansell and John Burton - each jailed for 9 years

At one stage the mob used gym equipment as a battering ram to force open a main door and allows inmates to escape into an exercise yard.

Wilkinson (24), Robert Smith (34) and 23-year-old Nathan Weston admitted prison mutiny while Burton (39) and 24-year-old Mansell were found guilty last week.

And at Birmingham Crown Court today (2 Oct) Mansell and Burton were both jailed for nine years, with Wilkinson, Smith and Weston all handed six-year terms.

The sentences will run consecutively to any prison terms the five were already serving. 

Grant Samed, aged 30, also admitted prison mutiny and will be sentenced on 20 November.

Disorder ‘poster boys’ Queen (30) and 33-year-old Brookes – who posed for photos in prison guard riot gear that were widely shared on social media – admitted publishing images from a prison establishment. They are yet to be sentenced for that matter; the jury failed to reach a decision on them over a charge of prison mutiny.

West Midlands Police Detective Inspector Caroline Corfield’s team led the investigation into the disorder. She said: “The men leading this mutiny gave little consideration for the safety of either prison officers or their fellow inmates. 

“Prison officers were subjected to a prolonged attack as they tried to hold a prison gate secure; missiles, paint and debris were thrown at them while they were also doused with fire hoses. The inmates used whatever was at their disposal to try to force the gates open.

Six-year jail terms for Wilkinson, Smith and Weston
Six-year jail terms for Wilkinson, Smith and Weston 

“Their actions put significant strain on the emergency services with fire, ambulance and police resources dedicated to this disorder, impacting on their ability to respond to the needs of the wider public.

“The post-disorder enquiry was hugely challenging. A dedicated team of West Midlands investigators sifted through reams of potential evidence and carried out interviews at prisons the length and breadth of the country where inmates had been relocated.

“Some of these rioters were already serving long jail terms for serious offences but others like Smith and Weston had been released from their original sentences – but are now back behind bars for their actions.”

Wilkinson and cellmate Samed acted as catalysts for the trouble by climbing onto safety netting – stretched across the fourth floor balcony of N Wing – at 8.30am as inmates started their daily duties.

Weston, Burton and Mansell joined them and are seen on CCTV dismantling furniture and using table legs to smash lighting.

Prison officers retreated behind a metal gate and, when one senior manager tried negotiating with the group, Smith reached through the bars and grabbed a set of keys which included a skeleton key to open all other cells plus staff offices.

They went on to force open gates leading to wings L and M and, at the height of the disorder, up to 600 inmates are thought to have been released from their cells. 

Prison staff locked down all external doors and padlocked gates on the complex, while West Midlands Police officers circled the perimeter wall to offer public reassurance.

Director at HM Prison Birmingham, Richard Stedman, added: “My team and I are grateful to West Midlands Police, the CPS and our prison security team for their determination in pursuing this complex case and bringing to justice those who incited the unrest.
“These verdicts send a powerful message that violence is never justifiable and those who endanger prisoners and staff can expect to face the full force of the law and the likelihood of an extended spell behind bars.
“The evidence shown to the court of the sustained aggression of these men during the disturbance underscores the courage of Birmingham’s prison team and our colleagues from around the country in quelling the disorder.  

“The work of a prison officer can be extraordinarily challenging and I want to pay tribute to the resilience and professionalism of all of our officers and their resolve in the months since to recover and re-open the affected wings.”
And Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah said: “I visited HMP Birmingham in the aftermath of this incident and heard first-hand from the brave frontline staff that had to deal with this unprecedented level of violence as it unfolded.

“The level of skill, commitment and dedication they displayed in bringing it to a safe conclusion was exemplary and undoubtedly saved many of their fellow colleagues and inmates from harm.

“I want to thank staff at Birmingham prison and those from other establishments who helped to resolve this incident, as well as those from the emergency services who closely supported them.”

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