Fire crews were called to Lewes Prison amid a reported row over the smoking ban at the “shameful and shambolic” jail.

Five fire engines attended the category B jail yesterday morning amid concerns people could be trapped inside.

However the blaze – in a bin inside a cell – had been extinguished by prison staff before firefighters arrived.

The incident was the latest in a long line of troubles for the jail.

The country’s prisons have been rolling out a ban on smoking this year, which prison insiders have warned could spark tensions.

Rioting at HMP Birmingham and HMP Haverigg in Cumbria last year were blamed on tensions caused by the ban.

All high security prisons implemented a smoking ban in August 2017 and others went smoke-free before that date.

But with approximately 80 per cent of all inmates smokers, it is no surprise that reports of violence, riots and general unrest have been frequent in recent months.

The Ministry of Justice said that prison staff extinguished yesterday’s fire quickly.

A spokeswoman added: “There is no evidence to suggest it was to do with the prison going smoke free.”

Lewes Prison has suffered considerable unrest in the past couple of years.

Its most recent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons report published last month found high levels of violence and use of force.

In six months there were 25 assaults on staff and 111 assaults on prisoners.

About half of the 640 men in the jail were locked up during the working day and on some units men were routinely kept in their cells for 23 hours a day.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said it also had serious concerns about sex offenders being housed in the first night centre, which should be dedicated to vulnerable new inmates.

Some prisoners were sent to the segregation unit on their first night behind bars because of a lack of space.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a prison that is struggling even to fulfil its primary purpose – to keep prisoners, staff and the public safe.

“Lewes reflects the shambles and the shame of the prison estate and the systemic challenges it faces.”

Inspectors visited the prison, which holds a significant number of young adults and men over 60, in December and January.