Portsmouth man cleared of six-hour prison riot which caused £150,000 damage

The famous statue of Lady Justice. Ian Nicholson/PA Wire SUS-170112-120259001
The famous statue of Lady Justice. Ian Nicholson/PA Wire SUS-170112-120259001
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A PORTSMOUTH man accused of taking part in a six-hour cell block riot, which caused £150,000 worth of damage to a prison, has been cleared of any charges.

John Udy, 38, stood trial alongside four other men after the C-wing at HMP Lewes, in East Sussex, was wrecked in 2016.

Windows and lights were smashed, offices destroyed and computers overturned. Fire extinguishers, bins and rubbish littered the wing and the second floor was flooded.

He and two others, including Southampton man Shane Simpson, 30, were cleared of a prison mutiny charge after the judge found the defendants had no case to answer and dismissed the jury.

But Ross Macpherson, 28 and at HMP Belmarsh and Steven Goodwin, 29 and at HMP Elmley, were charged and had their prison sentences extended.

Judge Roger Chapple highlighted poor prison conditions and staff shortages as he sentenced the pair at Hove Crown Court yesterday after they pleaded guilty to criminal damage.

He said the standards at the prison ‘fell below what was humane and decent’ and accepted prisoners were not to blame for staff shortages but told them this was not the way to act.

The duo racked up an extra three years and eight months between them.

Prisoners had been locked in their cells for longer than usual due to weekend staffing shortages.

They were eventually let out for a shorter period of recreation time and became aggressive when they were asked to return to their cells – prompting the four guards in charge to flee.

During the incident Macpherson – who has a long list of previous convictions for violence and vandalism – threatened to gouge out the eyes of guards with a pool cue, the court previously heard.

The judge described him as the ‘instigator’ and the ‘most enthusiastic participant’, adding: ‘You were smashing, damaging and destroying whatever you could.

‘By your words and your actions, you were encouraging others.’

He said fellow inmate Goodwin, who was sentenced to an extra year and eight months in prison, was ‘easily led’ and he could not see why he did not ‘stay out of the way’ because he only had a few days left to serve.

Whole offices, showers, equipment and light fittings were destroyed, which meant the block was out of action for two-and-a-half months while it was repaired.

Some 139 prisoners had to be moved out – with many sent to other prisons.

This came during a spate of riots which erupted across the country and was the second in three major disturbances in less than two months.

They followed warnings from the prison watchdog and unions that there were rising levels of violence amid staff shortages.

The Government announced a string of measures to tackle the problem, including a recruitment drive to hire 2,500 more staff.

Simpson was fined £350 when he pleaded guilty for failing to attend after going missing for a week during the trial.

He had been lying on a pool table when recreation time came to an end and refused when guards asked him to hand back the cue and return to his cell.

The situation soon escalated, prompting guards to retreat from the wing, leaving prisoners on the rampage until the specialist officers from the Tornado national response team arrived at around 4pm to quell the disturbance.

Officers feared for their own safety and retreated from the wing, leaving the prisoners to rampage ‘unsupervised’.

Footage, filmed just moments after order was restored and shown in court, illustrated the ‘very extensive’ damage to the three-storey wing.

Goodwin was spotted smashing ‘every single light fitting on the wing’, swinging a large metal chain around and breaking glass panels in the communal showers with a fire extinguisher, the trial heard.

A laundry, staff kitchen and toilets were also damaged.

The cost of the damage was heavily contested by the defence and prosecution which called on witnesses to establish the value.

Mia Motter, deputy governor of HMP Lewes, discussed the difficulty in tracking down some records and reviews made of the damage immediately after the incident in order to document the cost.

The judge said he did not need to rule on a precise amount, estimating it was ‘much more’ than claimed by the defendants and ‘something like £150,000’.