POLICE negotiators were scrambled to Pentonville prison today (Wednesday) after an inmate climbed on to a roof and began screaming complaints about conditions inside the jail.

I watched the drama unfold from the roof of a neighbouring building as the man, who was in his 20s, refused to come down for almost for five hours.

In a conversation conducted through shouts across the wall, the prisoner identified himself to me only as “Titch” and claimed that inmates were being “treated like animals”.

Other prisoners appeared to be held in their cells during the protest and could be heard banging on the barred windows and even goading him to jump.

“Titch” appeared calm throughout as he talked to other prisoners through the windows and strolled about the rooftops shouting: “It’s a bit nippy up here.”

Riot police and negotiating specialists were called to the prison after the man, wearing jogging bottoms and a sweater, made it on to a workshop roof at about 10am.

The protesting prisoner appeared to have a lighter and paper with him, according to a firefighter, and it was feared he would start a fire.

When I asked why he was there, he replied, “Why not?”, before listing grievances including a lack of food and furniture and saying the Victorian prison should be knocked down.

Residents living nearby said prisoners frequently burnt holes into protective netting and threw weighted ropes into the street as a way of getting drugs inside.

Ropes with parcels attached can be seen swinging from the building outside inmates’ windows, they claim.

A prisons’ inspectorate report, published earlier this year, painted a shocking picture of “filthy” conditions inside Pentonville, a huge rise in violent incidents leading to inmates feeling unsafe, drugs being freely available and a chronic lack of staff.

Pentonville holds around 1,200 adult men from the north and east London area – 300 prisoners more than it is designed for.

In November, Justice Secretary Michael Gove strongly suggested the prison would be sold off to fund a series of new jails across the country. He has named Pentonville as the “most conspicuous example of failure within the prisons estate”.

Just before 3pm yesterday, two men climbed a ladder and attached a harness to “Titch”. He left the roof without a struggle to boos from other inmates.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “One prisoner at HMP Pentonville gained access to a workshop roof earlier today. The situation was safely resolved when the prisoner voluntarily came down.”