PRISON officers are to be given canisters of synthetic pepper spray in a bid to combat violence in jails, prisons minister Rory Stewart has said.

The news comes following a riot at HMP Long Lartin last month, in which six prison officers were injured.

The riot continued throughout most of Sunday, September 30, and saw specialist “Tornado” personnel staff having to be deployed to regain control.

Seven prisoners from the prison near Evesham - which holds some of the country’s most dangerous and serious offenders - were placed in isolation to be transferred to other prisons after the riot.

The incapacitant PAVA spray has been trialled in four prisons and will now be rolled out at all jails which house male prisoners, the prison minister said.

Mr Stewart has told the national press that trials of the PAVA spray had already shown positive results, without the officer needing to use the spray.

“The mere fact that an officer is wearing the canister on their belt acts as a deterrent and can prevent incidents getting out of hand,” he said.

However John Podmore, a former governor at the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London, said prisons were best run on co-operation and that the pepper spray would worsen the current “culture of conflict.”

Asked by the BBC whether officers should be able to defend themselves against violent prisoners, he said: “Good luck with one can of pepper spray against half a dozen prisoners.”

In September, national industrial action was taken by prison officers in response to a report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke who raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

The Prison Officers’ Association trade union has also previously hit out at levels of violence against prison officers, overcrowding and safety issues in the prison system.