PRISON staff from HMP Portland took part in a nationwide walkout earlier today in protest against 'unprecedented' levels of violence in jails.

Some 26 members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) union joined the action, which took place from 7am at institutions across England and Wales.

Steve Gillian, POA general secretary, had called for staff to protest outside their work until "instructed otherwise."

Around 5,000 union members took part, and were ordered to return back to their posts by the POA at 1pm.

The protest came after an inspection report, published on Thursday, found inmates had effectively taken control at HMP Bedford, prompting the POA to accuse government of overseeing "the demise of the prison service over the last eight years."

Mr Gillian called for the government to "provide safe prisons, meet our demands to improve personal protective equipment, reduce levels of violence and overcrowding."

At HMP/YOI Portland, union members told the Echo they'd ensured enough staff remained on duty inside the jail to deliver medication to prisoners, provide food and deal with any disorder.

HMP/YOI Portland POA branch chairman Tony Walker explained: "All the issues that have been raised, the increase in use of psychoactive substances, increasing levels of violence, staff and prisoners being assaulted are all happening at Portland.

"We don't have enough resources to combat the amount of drugs that are coming in.

"We are fully aware we can be asked to deal with violent prisoners, but we need to be given the resources that if we are threatened with violence, everything is put in place to help us.

"We should be able to always go home safely to our families."

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said the POA had acting "irresponsibly" in calling for action, which he also described as illegal.

He added: "We are deploying our contingency plans but, by not turning up for work, these prison officers are putting their fellow staff and inmates at risk.

However, Mr Gillan said: "The POA has engaged with the employer and ministers in an attempt to resolve issues, but they are paying lip service to the health and safety of my members, their human rights, that of other workers in prisons and of course the prisoners in our care."

During a meeting between POA leaders and the minister, described as "productive" by Mr Gillian, the walkout was called off.

Further meeting are expected between all parties in the coming days.