Monday, October 03, 2016

Death of hamster sparked prison rampage

The death of a prison inmate's pet hamster was one of the reasons behind a prisoners' protest which caused more than £12,000 damage to their jail. The drama began when four prisoners climbed onto the "suicide netting" between two floors at HMP Stocken, near Oakham, Rutland. Two of the inmates remained there for four hours and specially trained officers had to be sent to the prison to restore order. Gordon Aspden, prosecuting, told Leicester Crown Court that Craig Merce, 26, and Shane Green, 25, were angry after having their cells searched, when they claimed treasured photographs were damage. Another inmate Kyle Blackie, 23, was also "distressed" about his pet hamster dying. Mercer, Green, Blackie and Anthony Bailey, 32, climbed onto the netting shortly before 6pm on April 14 last year.

Mr Aspden said: "They took a mattress, chairs, food, tobacco and bizarrely a Monopoly game – which showed they were planning to spend some time up there." He added: "Bailey said he wanted 'out of this sh*thole,' and Blackie was distressed about losing a pet hamster a few days earlier." It was not said in court if Blackie's hamster was being kept in the prison or was with his family back home. Prisoners are allowed to keep pets as part of a 'privilege and incentive' scheme if it has been agreed with jail bosses. The governor and senior staff spoke to the men but they remained "defiant and arrogant". Mr Aspden said: "Green began banging a broom handle on metal railings and broke up a chair so the others had a chair leg to also bang on railings." An alarm was ringing out and other inmates – who were secured back in their cells – were shouting as the prison guards withdrew and "locked down" the wing at 6.30pm.

The defendants, each serving between five and six-and-a-half year sentences for burglary offences, then "trashed" the landing smashing furniture and light fittings. At 7.10pm they were warned over a tannoy they were committing prison mutiny, carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. Their response was to shout "F*ck off." The defendants hurled missiles at prison staff, but by 8pm Blackie and Bailey had surrendered. The other two continued saying they were "happy to fight". But at 10.30pm six specially-trained officers arrived, went onto the netting and subdued them with pepper spray. All four were taken to a segregation unit and transferred to other prisons. They were originally charged with prison mutiny, which they denied, but on the day of trial they all pleaded guilty to alternative offences of affray and criminal damage, which was accepted by the prosecution.

Mercer and Green were each jailed for 22 months, consecutively to the terms they are already serving. Bailey was jailed for 20 months, consecutively, and Blackie who has since been released from his original sentence, had his case adjourned for the preparation of a pre-sentence report. Judge Nicholas Dean QC told them: "No doubt you had complaints, whether they were legitimate or not doesn't seem to matter because you reacted to them wholly disproportionately and caused huge disruption. It doesn't seem to be prison mutiny, as you weren't challenging the authority of the prison, but you were protesting in a violent and deeply unpleasant way about the conditions of your incarceration." Defence barristers for all four, said in mitigation, the defendants were sent to higher security prisons and subject to a more stringent regime. HMP Stocken is a Category C prison which houses a total of 800 prisoners in six wings.

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