A protest by prison staff over violence and safety concerns has been called off by their union following an agreement with prisons minister Rory Stewart.
Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, had been asked to demonstrate outside prisons across England and Wales from 7am “until instructed otherwise”.
The protest ended shortly before 2pm and authorities have since signalled that negotiations will begin on Monday aimed resolving prison safety concerns.
Speaking after the agreement was reached, Justice Secretary David Gauke said the nationwide protest by prison officers “only increases the risk of violence” in jails and further branded the action as “wrong” and “irresponsible”.
He told reporters: “I do believe that we have to take steps to reduce the violence.
“I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.
“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.
“It doesn’t help us address it.”
Lawyers representing the Ministry of Justice and the POA appeared at a High Court hearing in London on Friday where a judge was told an injunction stopping any walk-out was halted, after an agreement was reached.
Outside court POA General Secretary Steve Gillan called the decision an “excellent result”.
“We are very pleased with the outcome,” he said, adding: “Hopefully we can get a deal which ensures protection for prisoners and for our members.”
Prison staff took action after a damning report warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, their union said.
That followed a report on Thursday from Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke, who raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at the Bedfordshire prison.
Inmates have effectively taken control at the violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail, his report has warned.
Earlier today a Bedford Prison worker told how he was assaulted up to seven times in his 13 months at the jail.
Blunt, a operational support grade, said: “I’ve been assaulted six or seven times in my time here – spat at, grabbed, scratched.”
The 20-year-old lacks the self-defence training of officers, but claimed when he raised the issue with the governor, she gave him various excuses.
“I shouldn’t be here getting assaulted all the time and when it’s reported to the police it just gets dropped,” he said.
“I’ve thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted earlier today: “Tory cuts have put prison officers and prisoners in harm’s way.
“The government must take urgent action to end the crisis of under-staffing and overcrowding.”