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Prison fires in England and Wales at record high

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Media captionThe footage is understood to have been filmed by inmates of HMP Birmingham

Prison fires in England and Wales have reached record levels, according to official figures.

There were 2,580 incidents last year, the equivalent of 50 blazes every week - double that of two years previously.

The total includes accidental and deliberate fires. The Ministry of Justice said most were "relatively minor".

Thameside Prison in London recorded the most fires last year - 101.

The Ministry of Justice figures emerged after a Commons question from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Birmingham riots

HMP Birmingham, the scene of a riot involving hundreds of inmates last December, recorded 82 fires, followed by Nottingham's 78, Doncaster's 75 and 73 in Sheppey and Swaleside.

Ten prisons recorded one fire incident during the year, including Thorn Cross in Cheshire, Huntercombe in Oxfordshire and Full Sutton in Yorkshire.

Image copyright Reuters

There was a spate of outbreaks of disorder in prisons in 2016, when inmates set fire to their own cells.

In HMP Featherstone in the West Midlands, where there were 13 recorded fires in 2016, prisoners started multiple fires during a week-long outbreak of disorder last August.

And in November, a fire outbreak during a riot at HMP Moorland in Doncaster left cells damaged and two inmates injured.

The following January a prisoner at HMP Winchester in Hampshire needed medical treatment after a fire broke out in a prison cell. The prison recorded 47 fires last year.

'Acts of arson'

Fire outbreaks have started to become more common over the past two years.

The number of prison fires between 2005 and 2013 remained steady at between 900 and 1,100 each year. However in 2014 this increased to 1,236 and in 2015 there were 1,935 blazes.

Image copyright Reuters

Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah said that the fire incidents covered a "wide range of circumstances" including accidental fires and deliberate acts of arson.

He added that the government would "never compromise" on inmates' safety.

"Staff are trained to respond to emergency situations in a timely, appropriate manner," he said.

"Although the Fire Service routinely attend fire incidents in prisons, the majority are relatively minor in their nature."

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