ARUNDEL, England (Reuters) - Rioting prisoners torched buildings at a low-security British jail Saturday, an incident the prison guards' union said highlighted the risks of government plans to slash spending on the justice system.
About 40 prisoners took part in rioting at Ford men's prison near Arundel, southern England, that began around midnight on New Year's Eve, the Prison Service said.
Prisoners smashed windows and started fires, forcing staff to retreat. Twelve hours after the trouble began, prisoners set fire to an accommodation block and firefighters needed the protection of scores of prison officers in riot gear to enter the prison to put out the blaze.
Television pictures showed the gutted shells of several other recreation buildings.
Around 140 extra prison guards were brought in to quell the trouble and, by evening, authorities appeared to have the situation under control.
Prisons minister Crispin Blunt said the riot began when guards tried to breathalyze prisoners suspected of drinking alcohol smuggled into the jail.
He said the riot was "outrageous" and unprecedented at a low-security prison where inmates are trusted to behave well.
Around 150 inmates -- both those suspected of involvement in the trouble and those whose accommodation had been burned down -- were being transferred to higher-security prisons, he said.
Prisoners who took part in the riot faced serving the rest of their sentences in higher-security jails or being denied early release, he told the BBC.
Inmates of Ford, a sprawling rural complex of huts housing several hundred prisoners, are not generally confined to individual cells and may work outside.
Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, sought to link the incident to public spending cuts that Britain's coalition government has embarked on to cut a budget deficit of 10 percent of national output.
"We understand management have been trying to reduce the amount of prison officers working here (at Ford) and I think that this should be a stark reminder of just how dangerous even open-prison condition prisoners can be," he told Sky News.
Writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Ralph Boulton