STRANGEWAYS PRISON RIOT – 20 YEARS ON BUT ALAN LORD STILL IN GAOL

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The riot cops are at the window but after 25 days of siege the prisoners defend every last yard of their autonmous space. Coming the Day after the Poll Tax riot the Strangeways mutineers provided some of the most memorable images of revolt of the time. The fire brigade were asked to train their hoses on the mutineers but repeated intervention from Ken Keating’s Ordsall Class Warriors – cutting of hoses and a robust presence outside the prison walls – prevented this becoming a regular event.ALAN LORD was scapegoated as one of the leaders of the mutiny  and is still in prison today – 20 years after the riot. Alan has dramatically escaped once but recaptured. Surely we must use the 20th anniversary to build a campaign for his release as he is now one of the longest serving prisoners in the country and sadly forgotten by us all.  FREE ALAN LORD!

H.M.P Manchester formerly known as Strangeways was the scene of the worst ever prison riot in mainland Britain. The riot started on the 1st of April 1990 and lasted for 25 days. 147 prison officers and 47 prisoners were injured. Much of the prison was badly damaged or destroyed, the staggering cost of rebuilding coming to £55 million.

Strangeways prison was built in 1868 to replace the New Bailey Prison in Salford. The new prison had a capacity to hold 953 men. On the eve of the riot the total number of inmates was 1647. Tension was rising high amongst the inmates in Strangeways prison. Complaints about prison food, overcrowding and staff brutality were amongst the mens many grievances. Strangeways is a category b prison, and grade 2 listed building. The prison walls are said to be 16 feet thick. It’s 234 feet high tower dominates the Manchester skyline and served as a grim reminder to potential law breakers. The prison was built on the grounds of Strangeways Park and Gardens, which gave the prison its original name.

Strangeways was also a place of execution, the last hanging to take place there was in 1964. Originally the prison contained an execution shed in B wing. During the second world war a special execution room and condemened cell were built. The quickest recorded hanging took place in Strangeways, Albert Pierrepoint executed James Inglis in only seven and a half seconds, from being led out of his cell until the trapdoor opened to send him on his fatal drop. In total exactly 100 people were hung at Strangeways.

The prison consists of two main buildings. Six wings (A, B, C, D, E, F) lead from a central rotunda in the biggest block. Wings (G, H, I, K) are in the second smaller block. Strangeways is a typical Victorian design with wings leading from a central hub. This layout was considered the easiest to supervise with all wings easily visible from one vantage point. The design of Strangeways is called “Panoptican” Panoptican means that the cells circulate around the central warders blocks. Inmates have clear site of their nemesis at all times.


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Left: Prisoners sewing mail bags on one of the wings in Strangeways in 1953.Centre: The hangmans noose and trap door in the execution cell. Right: View along one of the wings from the central rotunda.


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Prison officers getting ready for duty in 1948.


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Along the landings 1948.

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*There seems to be a real lack of quality photographs of the Strangeways riot to be foud on the internet. That was until i found these superb black and white images belonging to Ged Murray


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It doesn’t seem like it was nearly 20 years since the Strangeways riot erupted. I recall clearly seeing those images of prisoners wearing balaclava’s, hurling slates from the roof, set fire to and systematically destroy the prison. Disturbing and sinister images of mock hangings on the rooftops, images of prisoners wearing nooses around there necks were beamed around the nation. The orgy of violence and destruction was on an unprecedented scale. The governor of the jail at the time Brendan O’friel called it an ‘explosion of evil’ Such scenes left a lasting impression not easily forgotten!



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Highly recommended viewing. Part one tells the story of how the riot began in the Chapel on the Sunday morning of the first of April 1990. Interviews with one of the rioters Paul Taylor, Brendan O’Friel the prison governor, and Noel Proctor the prison chaplain on the day.

Part two tells the story how the remaining prisoners resolve hardened over the 25 days. Rare footage of the destruction inside Strangeways is to be seen.

Part three illustrates the massive changes implemented in prisons since the riot.



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© Ged Murray. Rioters on the Chapel roof.

Prison officers had advance warning that an incident might occur in the chapel that morning, security was increased as a precautionary measure. 175 prison officers were on duty that day, extra officers were used to escort prisoners to the church service, fourteen officers were inside the chapel instead of the usual eight. An additional seven officers were also stationed in the vestry outside the chapel. The service was attended by 309 prisoners which was about the usual attendance. Segragated rule 43(a) prisoners were prevented from attending as a precautionary measure.


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© Ged Murray

A senior prison officer believed the prisoners might attempt a sit-down protest with the possibility of taking an officer hostage, he instructed staff to evacuate the chapel if trouble began. At approximately 11:00 am, a visiting preacher had just delivered the sermon when prisoner Paul Taylor ran down the isle and grabbed the microphone.


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© Ged Murray

Taylor began his speech which was to start Britains worst ever prison riot. He started his speech, I would like to say, right, that this man has just talked about the blessing of the heart and a hardened heart can be delivered. No it cannot, not with resentment, anger and bitterness and hatred being instilled in people. The other prisoners started to whistle, stamp there feet and cheer Taylor on. Reverand Noel Proctor tried to restore calm by saying ‘Right lads, calm down. Come on, this is no way to carry on in God’s house. As the Reverend was appealing for calm, a prisoner brandishing two sticks shouted out “You’ve heard enough, let’s do it, get the bastards” And then the riot started.


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The prisoners donned masks and brandished improvised weapons, prison officers were attacked with fire extinguishers, table legs and fire buckets.  Three prison officers started to retreat from the chapel when a set of keys was taken from them. A number of prisoners attempted to leave the chapel via the vestry, at the same time the seven prison officers there attempted to gain entry to the chapel. Once they managed to do so, the officers were attacked by prisoners, and a second set of keys was taken. Some prisoners helped to get the injured officers and Reverend Proctor to a place of safety via the vestry, other prisoners barricaded the entrances to the chapel.


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© Ged Murray

The prison officers guarding the gates outside the chapel, abandoned them and ran towards the Central rotunda. The prison officer in charge of the Centre saw his colleagues running from the direction of the chapel, but due to the presence of scaffolding he was in a poor position to view the upper levels. He mistakenly assumed he saw prisoners running from the chapel. Upon hearing that prisoners were in possession of keys, he told the officers that they should evacuate the prison. Governor Morrison, who was responsible for the main prison at the time, did not intervene with these instructions.

By this time prisoners had gained access to the roofs of E and F wings, from there they gained access to other wings by making holes in unprotected office ceilings. The prisoners found A and B wings unsupervised as the prison officers had already evacuated, they began to free other prisoners who were still locked in their cells.

Rioting prisoners also gained access to E wing, where the Rule 43(a) prisoners had been left locked in their cells after the prison officers evacuated. A number of these Rule 43(a) prisoners were attacked by rioting prisoners. Once such prisoner was Derek White, who was being held on remand. He later died in North Manchester general hospital after being admitted suffering from chest and head wounds. Fires were started around the prison including H-block which includes the postal section. Only a small number of firemen went in at one time. They were protected by police in riot gear from the missiles been hurled down from the roofs.  Inmates wore peaked hats and shirts taken from prison officers. A dummy prison officer was dangled on a rope from a gable of the chapel. Prisoners, many wearing scarves across their faces, almost completely stripped roofs of slates and chimney pots, which they threw into the compounds at officers below.


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© Ged Murray

Part of the Strangeways mythology is that the prisoners fought a running battle with staff to gain control of the jail. The truth is, the prison officers were easily ejected from the chapel. The rioters then began to errect barricades to prevent staff from re-taking it. They expected a full assault by control and restraint teams that would be assembled from Stangeways and surrounding prisons.

One prisoner entered the roof space of the chapel to observe operations. To his astonishment, he saw that prison officers had evacuated the jail. The barricades were quickly taken down. The prisoners began to liberate the remaining hundreds of prisoners contained within Strangeways. The subsequent inquiry into the disturbance concluded that staff should not have abandoned the jail with such haste.


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© Ged Murray

Inmates also faught amongst themselves. Old scores were settled, punishment beatings were meted out. Rioters broke into the prison hospital and helped themselves to drugs. One prisoner said he saw people running around in balaclava’s high as kites smashing peoples heads in. Between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm approximately 800 prisoners had surrendered, arrangements were made for them to be transferred to other prisons. At 8:00 pm approximately ten Control & Restraint units each consisting of twelve prison officers entered E wing. By 8:10 pm all four landings of E wing had been secured, one C&R unit progressed to the Centre where they fought with rioting prisoners. Scaffolding poles and other missiles were thrown down at the C&R teams from the roof area above the fourth landing in E wing. The prisoners broke onto the wing and the C&R teams withdrew at 0:22 am. This was latter to become known as ‘The battle of E wing’ rioters held up a banner on the roof proclaiming ‘E wing held well’ to taunt the locked out officers below. On the 2nd of April the prisoners were still in control of the wing. Up to 1,100 of the 1,647 prisoners were involved in the rioting, and by the end of the first day 700 had surrendered and been transferred to other prisons along with 400 prisoners who were not involved in the rioting. Between 200 and 350 prisoners occupied the rooftop of the main prison during the first night.

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© Ged Murray
At 7:00 am on 2 April, an estimated total of 142 prisoners were still in control of all the accommodation wings of the prison. Prisoners on the roof gave victory salutes to the crowd watching below. Some prisoners were wearing prison officers hats and uniforms, others were wearing masks improvised from towels and blankets. A banner was unveiled that read “No dead”, in response to claims in the media that between eleven and twenty prisoners had been killed in the rioting.

The segragated design of prisons meant to keep prisoners in, was now keeping the prison officers out. There were few ways to the upper floors and roof areas. Heavy barricades had been erected on the stairwells to keep the C&R teams at bay. Scaffold poles from building work inside the jail rained down on any officers attempting to confront the men. There were lurid stories in the press at the time about Kangaroo courts, castration of sex offenders, bodies been cut up and pushed down drains. All of which were later found to be untrue.

On the second day of the riot there was a large number of control and restraint officers ready to try recapture the jail. A full scale assault was overuled at the last minute. The fear of officer casualties and even fatalaties was too high. One officer who entered the jail on the second day described what he saw. It was a very frightening and dangerous place to be. There were walls and doors knocked down, everything that was in the cells had been smashed and thrown from the landings, litter and debris scattered everywhere, it was like a bomb had hit it. You had the noise of the prisoners screaming above you. It was full on in your face frightening stuff. A Home Office statement was released at 11:45 am stating that no bodies had been found in the prison, 12 prison officers and 37 prisoners had received hospital treatment.


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© Ged Murray
It was decided it was too dangerous to try retake the prison by force in the first few days. New tactics were designed to try weaken the resolve of the prisoners. Loud music was played to prevent them from sleeping, the Police helicopter hovered the prison, lights were shone at the roof, prison officers banged on riot shields and shouted at the prisoners to try intimidate them. The rooftop protest was watched daily by crowds of onlookers and supporters outside the prison. Various political action groups also attended in support of the prisoners, these including anarchist groups. Local businesses were calling for an end to the riot due to the disruption caused, including the closure of roads around the prison. Greater Manchester police asked for £2 million to cover the costs of policing the riot. G.M.P described it as the “most savage incident of its kind ever experienced within the British prison service. Conditions inside the jail were appalling, rats were to be seen in the prison yard, the remaining food was going off, the prisoners had been drenched with water cannons . They had been blasted with noise and light, buzzed with helicopters. They were tormented by truncheon beating prison officers during the night and they still refused to surrender.


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© Ged Murray

Control and restraint teams were first seen on the roof of Strangeways on the 25th morning of the siege. Prison officers entered the prison early in the morning and gradually began to occupy the upper landings. At 10:20 am one of the remaining prisoners was captured leaving five prisoners remaining on the roof.  When prison officers reached the roof they put up a sign saying “HMP in charge—no visits “Prison officers spent the day trying to talk the men into ending there protest. Water cannons were used on the prisoners to confine them to a small roof area of the prison.

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© Ged Murray
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© Ged Murray

Just after 6 p.m the remaining five men surrendered and were lowered from the roof in a Cherry picker.They gave clenched fist victory salutes to the press and public as they descended. During the course of the 25-day riot, 147 prison officers and 47 prisoners had been injured. The first prosecutions in relation to the riot began at Manchester crown court on the 14th January 1992. The trial was conducted amid tight security. Armed police patrolled the area and a specially constructed dock with bullet proof glass was made. Nine men went on trial charged with riot under Section 1 of the public order act 1986, six of them being charged with the murder of Derek White. All the defendants were acquitted of murder due to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and the possibility that White had died from a pre-existing condition.

The second trial began at the same court on 5 October 1992. This trial dealt with charges relating to the “battle for E wing” on 3 April 1990. Fourteen defendants stood trial. The defendants received sentences ranging from four years to ten years imprisonment on top of there original sentences. All but one prisoner serving a life sentence has now been freed. The Strangeways riot spread to 20 other prisons throughout the UK that year.

Strangeways was rebuilt and refurbished at a cost of £55 million. It was officially re-opened as HM Prison Manchester on 27 May 1994. A five-month public inquiry was held into the disturbances at Strangeways and other prisons. The Woolf report blamed the loss of control of the prison on the prison officers abandoning the gates outside the chapel, this effectively handed the prison to the prisoners he said.

The press were invited to view the new prison and talk to the prisoners by new governor of Strangeways. A prisoner told the visiting journalists. ‘The better conditions in here are not down to the prison department. But for the riot, we would still be in the same old jail banged up all day and slopping out . The rioters brought this about. These conditions, should not have cost the lives of a prisoner, a prison officer and two huge court trials. They should have done it years ago but it took a riot to get them to do it’

“Slopping out” was abolished in England and Wales by 1996, and was scheduled to be abolished in Scotland by 1999.During prison rebuilding work in 1991, the remains of 63 executed prisoners were exhumed from unmarked graves in the prison cemetery and cremated at Blackley Crematorium in Manchester.

repost from here.

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