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Inmates riot at low-security English prison

Rioting inmates caused heavy damage to a low-security prison Saturday, smashing windows and setting fires that engulfed buildings and spewed clouds of black smoke.

Fires burned into the afternoon at Ford open prison following disturbances that broke out at around midnight after inmates rebelled against attempts to force them to take breathalyzer tests on New Year's Eve. An official of the prison officers union said a large amount of illicit alcohol had been found in at the lockup.

Officials said the fires had been contained by 4 p.m., some 16 hours after the disturbance began.

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt said 150 prisoners were being confined because they were involved in the disturbances or because their normal accommodation had been damaged.

Mark Freeman, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said six ringleaders of the violence had been identified. Three were detained, and three were hiding among other inmates, Freeman said.

Officials said about 40 inmates at the prison near Arundel, 60 miles south of London, began the disturbance at around midnight after some prisoners refused to take breath tests for alcohol.

At the time, only two prison officers and four support staff were on duty, Freeman said.

Prison staff retreated and specialist officers were called in to handle the riot, the Ministry of Justice said. There were no immediate reports of injuries to staff or inmates.

The prison houses up to 500 offenders with less than two years remaining on their sentences to prepare them for release.

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