AN inmate was taken to prison with head injuries after a riot lasting several hours at a North-East young offenders institution.

The major disturbance at Deerbolt prison, on the outskirts of Barnard Castle, in County Durham, saw the intervention of a national response team made up of officers specially trained in riot control, known as a Tornado team.

The Northern Echo understands prison officers were forced to withdraw after inmates hurled pool balls at them. Fires were also set in cells.

Violence erupted after ‘association’ – a period when inmates are allowed out of their cells in order to mix with each other – and began in B wing at the prison yesterday morning.

The North East Ambulance service said it had been called to Deerbolt at 10.55am on Sunday morning.

Its duty manager said: “They requested our assistance and we were inside the prison.”

Several vans – some unmarked, some police vehicles – were later seen leaving Deerbolt between 8pm and 8.30pm and officers with riot shields could also be seen near the main gate at the prison. Police with dogs were also present in the grounds.

A source close to the prison said: “There is a lot of tension within the prison. Fires had also been set.”

Terry Fullerton, the Prison Officer Association’s national official for the North-East and Yorkshire, said: “Something happened at association this morning just after 10am which resulted in staff having to withdraw.

“The prisoners began throwing pool balls at them.

“A couple of inmates were injured and also a considerable amount of damage caused.

“The staff managed to negotiate the safe exit of the two prisoners, one of which required hospital treatment.

“The national response team – Tornado – was called in to deal with it.

“There will now be a debrief and an investigation will begin.”

Mr Fullerton said Deerbolt had “lost staff”, but said he was not aware of any current concern about prison officer levels.

He said: “They must have had an adequate number of staff on duty otherwise they would not have unlocked the cells and let the prisoners out for association.”

County Durham Fire and Rescue Service said it had sent two appliances to Deerbolt during the course of the day, but it was unable to comment further.

A Prison Service spokesman said there had been “an incident involving a small number of offenders on one wing”.

He said:"There have been no injuries to staff. One young offender has been taken to hospital for treatment for non life threatening injuries."

David Yeadon, chairman of the Deerbolt Independent Monitoring Board, added: “I am not in a position to say what happened even though I have been on duty at Deerbolt all day and saw what took place.”

In February last year a report by the board, which independently monitors Deerbolt, praised improvements to the standard of accommodation and said there had been positive changes in the way inmates were educated and trained while serving their sentences.

It also said Deerbolt, which can house about 500 young offenders between the ages of 18 and 21 and opened in 1973, had been operating at full capacity after a period of low occupancy.

In 2007 inmates rioted for two days at Deerbolt, wrecking furniture and flooding cells.

Four prison officers were hurt, including one who suffered a fractured skull.

The damage caused was estimated at £1m, while a vote of no confidence was later passed in then prison governor Debra Baldwin.