THE Verne Prison has been struck by a coronavirus outbreak - as more than 120 inmates are understood to have tested positive for the virus.

Sources connected to the prison describe conditions as "grim" - whilst calls have been made for prison officers and to be prioritised for vaccinations - with a number of staff reported to be self-isolating.

One individual, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "Video visits are a lifeline at present, and some of them have had to be cancelled because of staff shortages, due to self isolating."

"It is a grim time to be inside."

The Prison Officers Association (POA) is now calling for urgent action to mitigate the crisis.

Sarah Rigby from the POA said: "Staff at the Verne have been working tirelessly throughout the wider pandemic - and specifically through the current outbreak there.

"Unfortunately a lot of the prisoners held at the Verne are elderly and the accommodation there makes it difficult to isolate positive cases.

"We would appeal to the Government to prioritise prison officers in the next round of vaccines to try and stop the spread of the virus and to protect hard working prison officers, their families and the wider community they live and work in."

The number of confirmed cases was brought to light by the Verne's Independent Monitoring Board - however the Ministry of Justice has declined to comment on the number of infections.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons.

“We have taken precautionary measures at Verne, in line with public health guidance, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

It comes after the alarm was raised about staff and inmates' welfare after the facility was left without heating or hot water for several weeks.

Further details on the current situation will be published in tomorrow's Echo.