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Imitation guns found in jails as gangs escalate drug violence

Prisoners are turning to imitation guns and improvised explosives
Prisoners are turning to imitation guns and improvised explosives

Prisoners are turning to imitation guns and improvised explosives to enforce drug dealing in a dramatic escalation of drugs-related violence in jails.

The Daily Telegraph understands that an imitation firearm was found on a prisoner in Winchester jail only hours after drugs were seized on the same wing.

It follows a similar incident at Gartree jail in Leicestershire last week, where a prisoner fired what appeared to be a gun, which was caught on CCTV.

Specialist police firearms teams were drafted in to search the jail after it was put into lockdown. Officers discovered an improvised weapon and explosives thought to have been used in the incident.

It is thought to be the first evidence of weapons being used in the drugs operations being run by gangs within jails in order to intimidate inmates in debt to dealers.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that an intelligence led operation had been mounted at Gartree where officers recovered an improvised weapon. No staff or prisoners were injured and it was now being investigated police. It said a papier mache gun was found at Winchester but denied there had been a major drugs find.

Sources told the Telegraph that in the incident at Winchester, the handgun had been made out of polystyrene in the art class in prisoners’ education sessions.

A member of staff saw a prisoner with it in the canteen and alerted staff. Prison officers are concerned no action has been taken by the jail management. There was no lock down search of the jail and no restrictions in place.

“This is as serious as it gets and nothing has been done. There could well be another firearm in the jail,” a source said.

There are claims that at Winchester several prisoners over the last few months have broken through the walls of their cells and accessed the landings.

The incidents will dent the MoJ’s attempts to combat violence and the drugs trade in prisons which have increased sharply in the past year.

The number of times drugs were found in prisons across England and Wales rose by 23 per cent last year, while the number of assaults have hit a record high.

There were 33,803 attacks by prisoners in the year to the end of September 2018 - 20% up on the previous year.