Prisoners being slashed with improvised weapons and gang fights are among a catalogue of violence at one of Britain’s maximum security jails, a newly released document shows.
More than 200 incidents took place at HMP Belmarsh over an 11-month period according to reports obtained by Metro.co.uk.
They include one inmate using bedsheets to choke another unconscious and others using bits of tin melted into toothbrush handles to use as blades.
Many of the victims were recorded as saying they did not want to report the perpetrators, with one saying his attacker ‘was a big man’ in the Category A jail and should be given ‘respect’.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) initially refused to release the list of incidents between November 2021 and October last year before Metro.co.uk appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office. After the watchdog became involved the MoJ released the document in redacted form.
The reports disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) include acts of serious and potentially life-threatening violence.
In one, a prisoner was found with a ligature made out of a bedsheet around the neck of an unconscious cellmate in a recess on a landing.
The assailant was also using his leg to place the victim in a choke hold, making him unable to break free. The victim appeared unconscious with cyanosis, which turns skin blue or grey, according to the log, with the serious assault in September 2022 classed as a ‘preservation to life’ issue.
A general alarm was sounded and the attacker was removed under restraint by officers who untied the ligature and checked the victim’s pulse and breathing. There is no information about his condition in the document, where all personal information has been redacted.
Professor Ian Acheson, a former prison governor and counter-terrorism expert, said: ‘Violent incidents will take place in high-security prisons because of the nature of the people who are held in them. Offenders in Category A jails are often people who are used to using extreme violence.
‘However you would expect a staffing ratio to be in place to ensure officer safety and to stay on top of these types of incidents when they do happen.
‘The nature and extent of violence I have been shown is a grim reflection of how unsafe prisons have become. Belmarsh in particular has been in the news for serious incidents, including an attack by three inmates on an officer in our highest security unit three years ago.
‘In general, our prisons are significantly disordered because there are fewer staff available and officers are leaving the service in record numbers, including in the high-security, long-term estate. Often these resignations are due to a lack of safety and leadership on the front line.
‘In that context it is not surprising to see the serious nature of some of the incidents at Belmarsh. The logs also show that many of the victims refuse to cooperate with authorities as they are scared of reprisals and don’t want to paint targets on their backs. One of the questions Dominic Raab should be asking is why the staffing and support is not in place to fully guarantee their safety. Without it, rehabilitation is meaningless.’
The Howard League for Penal Reform highlighted the after-effects of reduced prison regimes during Covid for creating what it described as ‘violent and unsafe environments’.
Director of campaigns Andrew Neilson said: ‘These horrifying details of violence at Belmarsh show that the prison system is failing inmates and society at large by not enabling them to turn their lives around.
‘The number of assaults fell over the course of the pandemic, but at an enormous cost. Strict restrictions saw people locked in cells for 23 hours a day, for months on end. What we are seeing now may be the physical and mental toll of those restrictions.
‘While the government is planning to expand prison populations, figures such as these show the prisoners are being warehoused in violent and unsafe environments, with no thought to their welfare or rehabilitation.
‘People in prison should be engaged in exercise, education, employment and training, which overstretched, under-resourced and under-staffed jails are unable to provide. Urgent action must be taken to reduce prison numbers and to prioritise safe, productive sentences and the wellbeing of both prisoners and prison staff.’
The list of 226 incidents also shows how five inmates attacked a target last October, with one of the assailants using an improvised bladed weapon.
The victim was left with a cut down the side of his head, with the culprit injuring his hand during what is described as a ‘melee’ in the log.
Two ‘juggings’ — where a target is scalded with hot or boiling water — also took place in October, with one of the victims attending Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and the other needing an ambulance.
Another five-on-one ‘fight’ broke out the same month, with one person appearing to be bleeding heavily from a head wound.
A ‘code red’ was called and paramedics attended with all other prisoners secured behind their doors, the report shows.
A makeshift weapon was also used in December 2021, when a prisoner attempted to attack another while they were queuing for medication.
Officers found a sock with a bar of soap inside nearby.
The suspected attacker was then said to have hit another prisoner around the head with two bars of soap inside a sock, which resulted in a general alarm and the inmate being placed in restraint by officers.
In February last year a cell fight involved one occupant assaulting another in an argument over the synthetic drug spice, according to the report.
The same month a ‘code blue’ was called when a prisoner received a blow to the back of the head by two assailants in an exercise yard.
The victim ‘began to feel dizzy and sick and began to stop talking’ as he suffered a seizure, the log shows.
An ambulance was called but he refused to leave the jail and was kept in the health care centre at the prison in south east London.
Serious incidents at HMP Belmarsh
APRIL 2022shaken prisoner found with red marks says attacker ‘is a MR big’
The incident is among those where the victims seem unwilling or unable to report the perpetrators
May 2022suspected gang fight breaks out in yard
Four prisoners were placed in ‘guiding holds’ by officers who broke up the clash in an exercise yard
May 2022Code red after a fight between two inmates
A fight between two inmates involves ‘numerous punches and headbutts’ being thrown, with one suffering a ‘significant’ cut to his head
September 2022INmate tries to choke another with ligature
The attacker was using bedsheets and a choke hold to suffocate his victim before officers arrived
September 2022prisoner attacked with improvised weapon made from piece of tin melted into a toothbrush handle
The incident is one of two where the same type of makeshift weapon was used
October 2022prisoners locked down after four inmates fight
A code red is called and paramedics attend after an inmate is found ‘bleeding heavily’. Prisoners are secured behind their doors.
Violence flared again later in the month when five prisoners had to be restrained and returned to their house blocks later after a fight which involved two officers being injured and needing to attend A&E. One of the prisoners punched a female officer in the face during the brawl.
In March, two inmates fought in a shower recess, with a tin of tuna in a sock being retrieved from one when they were separated. One of the men was handcuffed and put in segregation by officers.
In April, an assault took place in a cell after which the victim was seen to be shaking and had red marks on his arm.
When asked about the attack by officers, he said of the alleged perpetrator: ‘He is a big man in prison’ and other inmates ‘should respect him’.
The victim was moved to a different cell, the document shows.
Two inmates went into another cell to assault the occupant with a TV lead before the target was viewed on footage rushing out with a kettle in his hand to defend himself, another log shows. He was seen to hit one of his assailants with the kettle, causing him to fall to the floor.
Gang rivalries were suspected to be the reason for a fight in May involving four prisoners in a yard, with the individuals all placed on report after being restrained and escorted back to their cells.
The log states: ‘Unknown as to reason behind fight, presumed gang issues.’
One disturbing incident involved a victim being found ‘undressed’ in a holding room, where CCTV failed to capture what had happened as prisoners had turned the light off. When questioned, the victim told officers he had been accused of stealing a vape from another cell.
The log for the incident, in May 2022, states: ‘Mr (redacted) was seen by nurse and received bruising and small cut to his right eye.’
A general alarm was sounded two months later when a prisoner was assaulted by three other inmates in a recess. The victim ‘was beaten and had faeces thrown over him’ and was left with bruising and cuts to his face. CCTV was viewed by officers but the assault was not visible.
Another general alarm was triggered last September during a fight between three prisoners who had been unlocked for court.
The log reads: ‘This was gang-related but reception officers failed to check with (redacted) before unlocking all three together. Mr (redacted) was restrained as he was the aggressor and was seen chasing the other two.’
The same month a prisoner assaulted another with a piece of tin melted into a toothbrush handle. The victim received cuts to his face, head and fingers which were treated in the health care centre.
The victim, who needed medical glue for his head wound, refused to have photographs taken or to press charges. Later that month a ‘general melee’ took place between ‘numerous prisoners’ but only one culprit was identified, with no other information given in the log.
In October, a ‘code red’ was called with ‘numerous punches and headbutts’ being thrown during a fight between two inmates. One suffered a ‘significant’ cut to his forehead and needed stitches.
The code red was stood down with the injured prisoner put in segregation.
A refusal by victims to give evidence was also a feature of an incident in October when an inmate was found with a suspected broken jaw.
Three prisoners were seen on CCTV going into his cell and are thought to have carried out an assault. The report states that the injured person did not want photographs taken or to provide any other evidence.
The log states: ‘He did not want his clothing removed, he did not want police involvement and he was not going to tell us what happened or who did this to him. He would not even admit he had been assaulted at first.’
The reports also detail attacks on officers over the 11-month period.
In its response to the FOIA request, the MoJ said: ‘The MoJ can confirm that we will never tolerate violence against our hard-working officers and assaults have fallen by more than 20% since 2019. Our £125 million investment to improve safety in prisons has clamped down on the weapons, drugs and mobile phones that fuel crime and violence behind bars, while we have also equipped officers with PAVA spray to boost protection.
‘The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has increased the maximum penalty for assaulting prison officers to up to two years’ imprisonment.’
The MoJ maintains that prisoners who are violent can face being moved to higher security conditions and it has recently increased the maximum penalty for assaulting prison officers to up two years.
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