A NORTH Wales AM has hit back at the Ministry of Justice as a row over conditions at Wrexham's HMP Berwyn intensifies.

Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd said the high levels of assaults on staff and prisoners at the prison were evidence of catastrophic failure, but the Ministry of Justice said his comments did a disservice to its hardworking staff.

In response, Mr Gruffydd said: "Frontline staff are bearing the brunt of these attacks and deserve greater support. To hide behind them rather than address the issues does the Ministry of Justice no favours.

"Let's be clear about the frightening rise in violence at this prison, which was only opened two years ago and seen as a model for the future.

"Despite this, the number of assaults on staff increased by 405% in 2018 at a time when its population climbed by 116%.

"The total number of assaults on staff rose from 40 in 2017 to 202 in 2018. That means that, on average, a member of prison staff was assaulted every two days at HMP Berwyn in 2018.

"Perhaps this information might provide a clearer insight into who is doing a 'disservice' to prison staff at Berwyn."

The North Wales politician made his initial comments on the state of HMP Berwyn, which opened in 2017 and will eventually house more than 2000 prisoners, following the publication of a report produced by the Cardiff University-based Wales Governance Centre. The report was particularly critical of the prison, including a revelation that the number of weapons discovered there (11 finds per 100 prisoners in the year ending March 2019) was the highest in Wales.

Mr Gruffydd has also challenged the Ministry of Justice to confirm what he had been told in the wake of the report: "Since the publicity surrounding this report into HMP Berwyn and other Welsh prisons by the Welsh Governance Centre, I have been told that 32 prison officers have left HMP Berwyn in the past five weeks and that 17-year-old officers with no experience are patrolling the landings.

"Would the Ministry of Justice care to comment on these allegations?"

The Ministry of Justice were approached for a comment about the allegations made but chose not to provide one on this occasion.