A WEEK of violence and protest which ended with a riot at Erlestoke Prison brought potential danger to the streets of Devizes on Sunday afternoon when a prison van evacuating inmates to other jails was forced to pull over in the town centre.

Five or six police cars then surrounded the van in Northgate Street to deal with what is understood to have been unruly behaviour inside. This week as the full scale of the trouble at Erlestoke unfolded against a backdrop of silence from the governor and police it emerged prison officers had warned of a crisis.

Prison Officers Association spokesman for the south west and Wales Mark Fairhust said: "The Ministry of Justice for some reason is trying to cover this up and down play it but we will not be silenced.

"They are trying to say it was not a riot and only three people were involved which is ridiculous. I have spoken to officers who were on duty and I have been told that while the situation started with three people kicking through the wooden doors of their cells it quickly escalated with other prisoners smashing up their cells.

"In the lead up to this there had been a roof top protest and a number of violent incidents involving prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on officers.

"Our members had been very worried about a lack of staff. They were scared something was going to happen."

He said that on Saturday there had only been 15 members officers on duty to control 500 prisoners and so all the inmates had been confined to their cells. This had caused frustration among the prisoners who then became violent.

The riot continued until 3am on Sunday and thousands of pounds of damage was caused to two wings as specially trained riot officers from prisons across the south west tried to gain control. Around 130 prisoners were later moved out to different jails across the country.

This week Wiltshire Police would not explain the situation in Northgate Street and passed all inquiries to the prison. In turn governor Steve Hodson said all comments had to come from the press office at the Ministry of Justice. A spokesman there said it was usual practice for a large number of police cars to accompany prison vans and could not explain why the van had stopped.

On the unrest the spokesman said: "On Saturday 11th June two separate incidents involving a small number of prisoners were successfully resolved at HMP Erlestoke.

“A safe regime is running at the prison, but following some structural damage a number of prisoners have been transferred to other prisons."