A protest by prison officers has seen inmates failing to turn up at Sheffield’s Crown Court this morning – with one trial abandoned.
The Prison Officers’ Association has called on all members in England and Wales to take protest action outside jails until instructed otherwise over rising concerns against violence against staff.
And the demonstration has led to a number of prisoners failing to arrive for cases at Sheffield Crown Court.
The most senior judge at the court said on Friday that the industrial action was causing "real problems" with a number of prisoners not arriving for his court.
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, the Honorary Recorder of Sheffield, was commenting as he decided he would have to abandon an "important" sentencing involving a gang who sold drugs and guns in Hull.
The judge said at least two of the six defendants who are in custody had failed to arrive at his court and he had been told that a van waiting to
transport at least one of them was stuck outside Manchester Prison.
Judge Richardson said: "Until approximately 45 minutes ago I was blissfully unaware of any industrial action today. The van provided by
the transport service is outside Manchester Prison. It cannot get access."
The judge said: "I have no idea as to the nature of this industrial action - who is taking it and what it is about."
Judge Richardson said he would have to abandon the case and list it for another day.
He said: "That fills me with great displeasure. It's taken a long time to arrange a date when a day can be set aside to deal with sentencing in
this important case."
The judge told two who were on bail: "In common with you, I'm profoundly disappointed that I cannot proceed to sentencing today."
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The POA trade union said its general secretary Steve Gillan had called for all members in England and Wales prisons to take protest action
outside their workplaces from 7am on Friday until instructed otherwise.
The POA said the action was in response to a report on Thursday by Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke who raised the alarm over the
potential for a "complete breakdown" in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.
Inmates have effectively taken control at the violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, the watchdog said.
The POA said: "The unprecedented levels of violence, and failure of this Government and employer to provide safe prisons has been headline news for some considerable time.
"The rise in violence against staff in prisons is laid firmly at the feet of Government and HMPPS (prisons and probation service), who have
overseen the demise of the prison service over the last eight years."
Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: "Prison officers do vital and important work and we urge them to return to their duty stations, in
line with their obligations to the law and the Prison Service.
"It's irresponsible for the POA to encourage their members to take this unlawful action. We are deploying our contingency plans but, by not
turning up for work, these prison officers are putting their fellow staff and inmates at risk.
"Yesterday we doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers. We've also increased pay, provided tools such as body-worn
cameras to increase security on the landings, and are investing £40 million to improve the estate and tackle the drugs problem which is
fuelling much of the violence. And we've now got 3,500 new officers to help ease the burden.
"We are taking the action that needs to be taken."
The POA said it expected around 5,000 members to take part in the demonstrations over the course of the day.