The Government admitted that it “got it wrong” after introducing reforms to the prison system which sparked a rebellion among inmates at High Down last year, the prison's governor has said.

High Down was only the second jail in the country to make cuts mandated by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, a criminal trial into 11 men accused of a prison mutiny and criminal damage heard yesterday.

The men, who were all inmates at the Banstead prison at the time, each deny trying to overthrow lawful authority at the prison last October by barricading themselves into a cell for seven-and-a-half hours.

Pyrotechnics were eventually used to startle the inmates after specialist prison officers stormed the cell and restored order to the prison, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.

TWO WEEKS AGO: Eleven men accused of mutiny in High Down Prison, Banstead, tried to overthrow prison regime court hears

The governor of High Down, Ian Bickers, told a jury of seven men and five women that the prison had undergone “significant change” in the period leading up the incident.

He said High Down was only the second prison in the country to implement a new Government policy, New Ways of Working (NWoW), which aimed to make the prison system more tightly run and meaningful for prisoners by cutting staff, benchmarking and getting rid of prisoner ‘association’ time.

But he said that, after it came into effect at High Down in September last year, the Prison Service acknowledged the new regime was not working.

Two weeks ago, the court heard how the defendants passed a “demand note” under the door of the cell during the barricade, which 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.”

Yesterday, the court heard how High Down was 50 staff members down on the date of the alleged incident, on October 21 and 22 - 30 prison officers and 20 operational support grades.

Andrew Jefferies QC, defending, told the court that the prisoners made a number of demands during the barricade including: “If we get mackerel and dumplings we will come out.”

Mr Bickers said that the prison does not negotiate or give in to the demands of prisoners: “Whether it’s tobacco, to see the governor, food, gym, mackerel and dumplings we do not acquiesce to the prisoners.”

Asked about the demands earlier in the trial, Mr Bickers said the new regime “involved a reduction in the number of staff at prisons and standardisation in the way prisons operate”.

He said: “Prison governors to some degree have less discretion about what they can do and when.

"They follow a standard process and every prison is benchmarked against another.

“The core day is 7.30am to 7.30pm.  Less prisoners are actively involved in work or education and they spend more time locked up.

“As a local prison, we have been asked to provide part-time work opportunities for prisoners.

"Prisoners are at work or education and during the rest of the day they spend time locked up in their cells.

"We provide limited time [out of their cells] – one hour of general association to shower or exercise if they are entitled to it, to make phone calls."

Mr Bickers said prisoners across the prison system had found it “quite difficult” to adapt to the changes.

"Up until this time, prisoners would have spent much more time in free association, playing pool or table-tennis, with friends, and that stopped as part of NWoW,” he told the court.

Mr Bickers said there are now no “unstructured activities” for prisoners within the core day and added: "It is a policy driven by central government which has tried to remove the freeness around prisoners to make prison much more purposeful."

The governor told the court that following the introduction of NWoW, the prison saw a “fairly significant increase in complaints” in a number of areas.

The changes brought about by NWoW were compounded, he said, by the prison moving from serving two hot meals a day to one.

He told the court this was to do with the number of staff required to serve two hot meals a day and added: "Meal times are very, very potentially inflammatory times.

"We replaced it with a packed lunch in their cells.”

Under cross-examination by Mr Jefferies, Mr Bickers said the change introduced at High Down last September “wasn’t a surprise to us".

He said: “We spent a long time consulting with staff and prisoner groups.

"They were not changes of our making.  To some degree they were forced upon us.

“On September 1, we were the second prison in the country to go live with NWoW.”

In response to Mr Jefferies referring to High Down as a “guinea pig”, Mr Bickers told the court: “The prison service had tested this in three other establishments during the previous year.

“We were going into it with our eyes wide open.  We listened and learnt and the changes were made.

"We were just in a position on September 1 to make the transition.”

He said prison staff had to get used to a change in their roles: “We were asking prison officers to do less.

“Prison officers who traditionally spent lots of time getting prisoners out of their cells were being asked, with less staff, to leave prisoners behind their doors, locked in their cells."

Mr Jefferies read out a list of complaints to the jury which were made by High Down’s inmates leading up to the incident.

Mr Bickers said: “It’s a fallacy at High Down that we lock prisoners up and forget about them.”

On one complaint referring to the gym being closed, Mr Bickers explained: “Gym was closed because we had to deploy every single prison officer we could to facilitate getting the men out of their cells for phone calls and showers.

“We absolutely always strove that prisoners were out of their cells, subject to operational requirements.

“I can’t stand here and put my hand on my heart and say someone wouldn’t have been missed.

“But if prisoners choose to stay in bed that’s their choice and I believe in giving a real world choice to prisoners."

He added :“Regimes in prison change all the time.  I have never known a stable regime to operate from the beginning to the end of one year. We have to be flexible.

“It’s the nature of our business that regimes change.  We will absolutely do our utmost to deliver that regime to prisoners.

"Happy prisoners mean a happy prison.

“But you do have to accept that when significant change happens people become unhappy with that.

"The increase in complaints is an outcome of what that might look like.”

Mr Jefferies suggested to Mr Bickers that he was forced to find the best way to govern under a system he could do nothing about.

The barrister said: “The reality is that because of the situation, there was no negotiation to be had because you were bound by the cuts which meant that you had to deal with it.

“And if the money wasn’t there to have four more staff you had to find a way to best govern your prison to make sure everyone get a share of the gym, library and healthcare, but you’re not a miracle worker.

“In effect what was being communicated to prisoners is ‘we can’t do anything, we all have to adapt to it’.”

Mr Bickers said the prison started a process to recruit more prison officers once NWoW was implemented because the Prison Service acknowledged the new regime was not working.

He told the court: “Yes, we were going through significant corporate change. Things didn’t work perfectly, things go wrong and not always as you plan.

“Though we were the second prison to do this, the Prison Service didn’t quite get our regime right.

“They said ‘we are sorry, we got it wrong, we will come and get it right’.”

He said the aim of NWoW has been to ensure a “safe, decent and secure” prison system.

“Yes there was a balance to be made as to what was safe, decent and secure,” Mr Bickers told the court.

“Providing prisoners with the opportunity to talk to family and to shower is decent.  Is going to the gym absolutely imperative to keep prisoners alive and safe? No.

“We have to make a decision that we are going to close the gym as we need to get 190 men out of their cells for showers.

"The priority has been for showers and phone calls."

He added: "In October, we were trying to implement something which was done wrong by people in headquarters.”

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.

The trial continues.