Eleven men have been cleared by a jury of staging a mutiny at a prison after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates.

The men, who were all imprisoned at High Down in Banstead last October, were accused of taking part in a prison mutiny and causing criminal damage over October 21 and 22 last year.

They had claimed they were protesting Ministry of Justice cuts and denied trying to overthrow lawful authority at the prison by barricading themselves into a cell for seven-and-a-half hours.

Pyrotechnics were eventually used by prison staff to startle the inmates when specialist prison officers stormed the cell to restore order to the prison.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict today at the end of a three-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court.

The court heard their demand note, which was passed under the door, 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."

They also said: "If we get mackerel and dumplings we will come out."

Andrew Jefferies QC, one of the barristers representing the men, said this afternoon: "By its verdicts, the jury must have accepted that the defendants may have been legitimately protesting rather than intending to overthrow the prison authority.

"During the trial, the jury heard about the independent monitoring board report and the growing complaints within the prison, particularly since the implementation of the cuts in September 2013."

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This trial has highlighted the serious problems that can arise when overcrowded prisons are forced to implement major changes while struggling to overcome budget cuts.

“As the governor of High Down said during the hearing, the government has ‘got it wrong’. Prisons are in meltdown.  

“It is unfortunate that so much money has been spent on this ultimately failed case when there are prisons across England and Wales crying out for more staff and resources.”

During the trial prison governor Ian Bickers took the stand and told the jury the prison had undergone "significant change" in the period leading up to the uprising.

The defendants were Martin Prince, Cory Stewart, Peter Gafney, Oshane Gayle, Callum Hollingsworth, Sam Davies, Anuar Niyongaba, Jordan Rowe, Charlie Dempster, Nathaniel Johnson and Nicholas Carlton.

The charge of mutiny is normally linked in popular imagination to the high seas but the charge can also used in prisons and other correctional facilities.

Four men were found guilty of mutiny in 2012 by a jury at Hove Crown Court after a riot at Ford open prison on New Year's Day 2011.

Prisoners had worn masks, and smashed and torched the institution and caused more than £5m in damage after becoming angry.

Three of the men, who the judge said had also threatened to kill and cut the five staff on duty that night, were jailed for seven years.

Afterward then prisons minister Crispin Blunt promised lessons would be learnt and that he would investigate whether insufficient staffing levels were to blame but said the report might remain internal.

Inspectors had visited the prison a month before the riot and had “serious concerns” it was revealed later.

More to follow.


April 25 2014: Two men charged with prison mutiny at High Down

October 29 2014: - Prisoners accused of mutiny felt "banged-up like kippers" following prison cuts

November 11 2014: - Government "got it wrong" over cuts which led to "mackerel and dumplings" prison rebellion


March 12 2014: Government denies 'crisis' at High Down Prison

March 14 2014: Worried relatives slam Government's denial of High Down prison 'crisis'

March 21 2014: Government stands firm in its denial of High Down prison 'crisis'

April 3 2014: Exclusive: 'No crisis - prison safe', says High Down's Governor on visit to prison by Epsom Guardian

May 7 2014: More prison cuts on the way following rehabilitation concerns surfacing at High Down

June 16 2014: Chris Grayling slams prison overcrowding crisis claims

June 17 2014 Mystery advert published inviting people to visit High Down prison

June 18 2014: Fresh wave of concerns about conditions inside Banstead's High Down prison

July 15 2014: High Down relatives speak out after claims prisons are reaching 'breaking point'

September 24 2014: Chris Grayling insists probation reforms will not put public in any danger

October 24 2014: Charity's research on prison officer cuts slammed as "deliberately misleading"

November 11 2014: Letter to the Editor: How does High Down prison regime help to rehabilitate?