Prison firebugs a menace

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FIRE-STARTING inmates of a Wigan youth offenders’ jail are causing a major safety risk, according to the borough’s fire chief.

Figures obtained by the Evening Post reveal an outbreak of deliberate blazes at Hindley Prison in the past year despite all equipment in cells being non-flammable.

Prison and fire authorities are now taking urgent action to prevent the errant behaviour from getting worse.

Since 2012, emergency services have been called to the Gibson Street facility on more than 60 occasions, including 16 cell fires, 14 of which happened in the last year.

Borough fire manager Steve Sheridan said: “There has been a significant spike in the last 12 months and we are working hard alongside the prison authorities to tackle it.

“Even though these figures are a concern, compared to five years ago, the number of fires has come down significantly. There used to be around 40 a year, but 14 is 14 too many as far as I’m concerned.

“From our point of view, a person setting a fire in a small space inside a cell, who might have second thoughts once it is lit, but find themselves trapped, is an extremely dangerous situation to deal with.”

Ambulance call-outs accounted for 42 incidents - for treatment for both inmates and staff - with police officers called to the facility on four occasions.

Commander Sheridan added that tin-foil has now been placed on the prison’s restricted list after concerns that inmates were using it to ignite fires via plug sockets.

He added: “Every prisoner has an induction with our prison based community safety officer but we are dealing with youngsters who can be extremely difficult to deal with.

“The prison staff have done some magnificent work in the past years to help reduce the number of fires - sometimes we have a spike, it becomes a trend and then we don’t have any for a number of years.

“I am meeting with the prison governor this month and will also be asking the CPS to consider extending inmates sentences if they start a fire. Word soon gets round that these actions can mean more time behind bars and that acts as a deterrent.”

A spokesman for HMP Hindley said: “The majority of cell fires are very small and do not result in any injuries to staff or prisoners and rarely cause damage or loss of prison accommodation.

“Prison staff are well equipped to deal with such incidents and in the vast majority of cases will quickly extinguish any fires themselves.

“The fire brigade is informed of all fires in prison and attends reports as a matter of routine.”