A VIOLENT protest involving 30 inmates was staged at Hewell prison over the weekend, in response to a new smoking ban, which comes into effect today (July 24).

Specialist 'Tornado squads', equipped to deal with riots, were drafted in to the Hewell Lane jail on Saturday night (July 22), after trouble broke out on one of the wings.

The Prison Service said a handful of prisoners were refusing to follow prison officers' orders and had been attempting to cause damage to the wing.

From around 7.30pm, unmarked vans using blue lights and sirens started arriving at the category B facility.

A steady stream of vans and minibuses was seen arriving at the jail's front entrance, carrying and unloading Tornado squads carrying backpacks filled with equipment.

Men shouting and swearing, as well as banging and dogs' barking, could be clearly heard from the street well into the evening.

Witnesses described hearing several loud quickfire bangs, thought to be distraction grenades, as the disorder continued.

These were greeted by loud shouts, thought to be coming from inside the affected wing, followed finally by silence just before midnight.

The Prison Officers Association has since confirmed that one member of prison staff was taken to hospital during the incident, and that inmates are believed to have been under the influence of 'prison hooch'.

Spokesman Jackie Marshall said: "Prison officials have said that staff had raised concerns with management but that the risk wasn't taken seriously until it was too late. Management didn't notice the warning signs. There were two incidents on that unit in the last week alone."

It is believed a new smoking ban, which came into effect this week, had sparked the disturbance.

"The Prison Service as a whole is becoming smoke free," Ms Marshall added. "Second hand smoke is a serious danger to staff. All sorts of tests have been carried out and this ban is a result of these findings."

HMP Hewell is now understood to be under the control of security teams, while a Prison Service spokesman said the offenders involved 'will be punished and face spending extra time behind bars'.

The main Hewell site, which houses about 1,000 inmates - some of whom are category A remand prisoners - is surrounded by farmland.

In an announced inspection report published in January, Hewell was described as "a prison with many challenges and areas of serious concern".

Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, said the "main concerns at the closed site were regarding issues of safety and respect".

He said levels of violence were "far too high", communal areas "dirty" and many cells over-crowded, with some described as "filthy".

Almost two thirds (60 per cent) had told the inspection team it was "easy" to get hold of drugs inside.

Inspectors also found levels of self-harm had increased, a quarter of prisoners "felt unsafe".