PRISONS across the region were hit by an unexpected walk-out as officers protested against “unprecedented” levels of violence.

Members of the POA, the trade union for jail staff, started the action to highlight concerns over assaults and safety.

It had a knock-on effect on court cases, with some defendants in custody being unable to be transported to hearings, and video-links to prisons not being supervised.

Just a handful of cases at Teesside and Durham Crown Courts were able to go ahead today, and those who were locked up were expected to be held in police cells.

The action involved demonstrations outside prisons and lasted for four hours before it was called off when the Government agreed to drop the threat of court action against protesting members.

General Secretary Steve Gillan said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the walk-out.

Thousands of union members took part in the demonstrations, which Prisons Minister Rory Stewart called “unlawful” and “irresponsible” before the talks.

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford.

Around 50 officers were outside the jail yesterday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue, while another had his head stamped on.

Outside of HMP Durham, branch secretary Craig Robson, said: “I have been in the job for 32 years and this is the worst I have seen it. 

“Prisoners are more violent, the use of spice has just totally put it over the top, we are having great difficulties. Fifty per cent of the staff we have at Durham have only got a year in. 

“It doesn’t help when the pay review body, which we don’t have much faith in anyway, which is supposed to be independent and is there as a compensatory measure for us not taking industrial action have had to say to the Government this year ‘why have you not given the full pay award to the prison officers?’

“So there lies the problem. If you don’t pay the staff you cannot recruit the staff. 

“There is no jail craft being learned because we are just rushing all the time from one problem to the other.”

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