PRISON officers at HMP Hewell in Tardebigge joined a mass walk-out today over concerns about rising levels of violence in jails.

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, following the release of a report on Thursday, which warned of a "dangerous lack of control" at HMP Bedford

The POA trade union said its general secretary Steve Gillan had called for all members in England and Wales prisons to take protest action outside their workplaces from 7am this morning "until instructed otherwise".

A POA spokesman said: "The unprecedented levels of violence, and failure of this Government and employer to provide safe prisons has been headline news for some considerable time.

"The rise in violence against staff in prisons is laid firmly at the feet of Government and HMPPS (prisons and probation service), who have overseen the demise of the prison service over the last eight years."

POA members, including those at HMP Hewell, were told to return to work by 1pm following "meaningful engagement" with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart "recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing" following Friday's protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was "confident a deal is a deal" after the prison service "backed down" over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded the walk-out "wrong" and "irresponsible", adding that it "does nothing" to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: "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."

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He said the Justice Secretary risked "inflaming" the situation after an agreement had been reached.

"The protest can't have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That's why we called the protests off," he said.

"And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say 'no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation', unfortunately when nobody's listening to you sometimes you've got to demonstrate that you don't think it's right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work."

He added: "It couldn't get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons."

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: "I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

"The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same - to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

"I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together."

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the Ministry of Justice to "steadily" rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The Ministry of Justice said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.