Rioting Spring Hill prisoners to face charges

QUESTION TIME: Corrections chief executive Ray Smith with minister Anne Tolley.
QUESTION TIME: Corrections chief executive Ray Smith with minister Anne Tolley.

A group of Spring Hill prisoners narrowly escaped being burnt to death after a burning roof caved in, just as prison officers herded them to safety.

The Waikato Times understands many of the 29 prisoners involved in Saturday's riot at the prison's high security wing were lucky to escape with their lives.

More than 115 prisoners have been relocated to other North Island prisons, including the 29 involved in the riot.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley, chief executive Ray Smith and regional commissioner Jeanette Burns addressed media at the facility yesterday afternoon, where Mr Smith confirmed millions of dollars worth of damage had been caused during the eight-hour stand-off with prison staff.

Cleaning products were used to light fires while sports equipment was broken down and used as weapons by raging prisoners - understood to be gang members.

The riot was brought under control before 8pm on Saturday after large numbers of police, fire and prison staff were brought in to regain control of the devastated wing.

Three prison officers suffered injuries including a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and facial injuries.

Hamilton St John team manager Cath Shannon confirmed prisoners were assessed by paramedics in the Spring Hill gymnasium with just two requiring hospital treatment for minor injuries.

Mr Smith said the incident started just after 10am, when the 29 prisoners in the high-security unit suddenly became disruptive, aggressive and violent towards staff who were forced to retreat from the unit.

The Times understands that a core group of the 29, possibly as few as three inmates, instigated the riots.

It is understood the prisoners were then able to break into a storage facility housing sports equipment, including volleyball poles, which were then used as weapons.

Cleaning products found in the storage area were used to light fires in the unit's grounds and items including mattresses and blankets were burnt.

Mr Smith said those involved posed no risk to anyone except themselves.

Yesterday, Mrs Tolley thanked prison staff and emergency services personnel for helping bring the situation under control - in stark contrast to her feelings towards those who started the riots.

"These people react randomly to very small things. They put themselves at very serious risk of being burnt to death," she said.

"These people are not the sort of people we want in our community."

She confirmed those involved in starting the riots were gang members.

"There are significant numbers of one particular gang at Spring Hill, which is the Killer Beez".

Prison staff had no indication trouble was brewing before Saturday's riot.

"It's going to cost a lot of money to fix [the damage]," Mr Smith said.

"There's about six months worth of work involved. It will be expensive ... it will be into the early millions."

Those involved in the riots are expected to face charges of arson and assault.

Waikato Times