Following the acquittal of 11 prisoners accused of mutiny, a former Tory prisons minister has attacked Chris Grayling’s prison policy and warned the verdicts could spark unrest in other jails.

The men were cleared by a jury this morning of staging a mutiny at High Down in Banstead last October after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates.

Banstead’s MP, Crispin Blunt, who was the prisons minister until September 2012, said: "In the light of the evidence from the governor the acquittal is unsurprising.

"This is reinforced by the reports of the Independent Monitoring Board. They reflect the consequences of prison policy under the current Justice Secretary.

"I am surprised this prosecution was brought. The protest did not appear to cross the threshold of ‘mutiny’, which is an extremely serious offence.

"The failure to secure a conviction will make prisons, which are now very tautly staffed, at greater risk of disorder, with some prisoners possibly misled into thinking they have some right of protest.

"They don’t and their interests will be best served by helping their prison regime help them make the best of their time in prison."

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Banstead's MP Crispin Blunt

During the three-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court the prisoners claimed they were protesting against Ministry of Justice (MOJ) cuts when they barricaded themselves in a cell for seven-and-a-half hours on October 21 and 22 last year.

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."

Prison governor Ian Bickers told the court during the three week trial that the prison moved from serving two hot meals a day to one, prisoners spent more time locked up and staff numbers had dropped.

Earlier this year a damning report revealed a prison "pared to the bone and beyond" where staff cuts had sparked safety fears, undermined rehabilitation and left prisoners in their cells for long periods.

The report, by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), described 2013 as "a dreadful year" and said many changes had produced an "unhappy prison".

Prisoners cleared by jury of staging 'mackerel mutiny' at High Down prison

Its findings mirrored complaints to this newspaper this year by worried ex-officers and relatives of prisoners - although the Ministry of Justice repeatedly denied the prison was in crisis.

Concerned about what was going on Mr Blunt visited the prison himself in May.

Afterwards he said: "The prison appeared to be settling down after a difficult period, to a new and more tightly staffed regime. I haven’t heard anything to contradict this."

Speaking about prison policy today, Mr Blunt said: "Previously the ambitious savings targets were being found by putting prisons out to competition.

"This was paralleled by rhetoric around sentencing that was accompanied by a drop in offenders being sentenced to custody and a greater focus on rehabilitation and work in prison.

"Whilst every prison is different it was my experience after over 70 prison visits that the private sector prisons were overall significantly more efficiently run.

"As far as rehabilitation of offenders is concerned they generally had more imaginative regimes and a greater commitment to meeting my objectives of getting prisoners put to useful work inside prison.

"This programme would have been expanded under Ken Clarke.

"Instead Chris Grayling decided, at the behest of the Prison Officers Association and Public sector prison service management to find the savings from stopping the competition programme and just making staff cuts in the public sector prisons.

"At the same time his message to the courts has been unambiguously robust and this has seen a rise in the number of offenders being sent to prison. This has exacerbated the problem."

An MOJ spokesman said: "Benchmarking is by far the best means of delivering value for money for the public purse.

"Alongside contracting out of facilities management and works it is on track to deliver efficiency savings of around £175m by 2015/16.  This is whilst ensuring that public sector prisons can operate, safely, decently and securely.

"We will always have enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts and have opened 2,500 new places in the past two years, with a further 2,000 places due to open in the coming months.

"We intend to continue to identify ways to deliver purposeful activity in prisons, so that people have the best chance of not reoffending. That includes increasing the number of hours of work being done each year in our prisons by about 2.5 million, and we will to continue to do that."