Welcome To HMP Belmarsh With Ross Kemp begins tonight on ITV.
“We will take anyone. We’ve had war criminals in here for genocide. There’s not one prisoner in the country that we won’t take. We’ve got 17 convicted terrorists, 187 murderers, prisoners that have killed three or four people.” – Adrian Knight, head of prisoner safety, HMP Belmarsh.
This brand new two-part documentary series for ITV goes inside the walls of HMP Belmarsh with Ross Kemp to offer a sharp insight into the harsh realities of life behind bars at arguably the country’s most notorious jail.
With cameras gaining full access to the prison in South East London for the first time, Ross went inside the jail over a period of six months to find out what life is like inside the maximum security lock-up that has housed the country’s most dangerous – and infamous – convicts.
Cameras follow Ross as he explores how prisoners and staff cope with high-profile inmates, extremists and common criminals living side-by-side, goes inside the High Security Unit – the only ‘prison within a prison’ in England and Wales – experiences the effect drugs can have on prisoners, and gets an insight into Belmarsh’s efforts to rehabilitate inmates.
He also sees how this complex prison operates as a violent protest unfolds outside, gaining a full-access close insight into life for staff and prisoners while it goes into lockdown. In the first episode, head of prisoner safety Adrian Knight opens up the country’s only Contingency Suite, a self-contained unit designed to hold high-profile prisoners deemed at risk of suicide or attack by other inmates. It has been home to the likes of Soham killer Ian Huntley, black cab rapist John Worboys and hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
This is Hellmarsh.” – Anonymous HMP Belmarsh prisoner
Ross discovers that Belmarsh also operates as a local prison, taking in criminals from courts in the area. In total, 120 officers must oversee 900 inmates at any one time across four house blocks. Staff say a sharp rise in gang crime outside the walls has led to a sharp rise in violence and serious containment issues for the prison.
When it opened in 1991, HMP Belmarsh was the first male prison to be built in London for over 100 years. A new breed of super-max jail, it was designed to take criminals considered a threat to national security, including IRA terrorists. It has its own guard dog unit, a bomb-proof tunnel linking it to Woolwich Crown Court – and one place that truly sets it apart – the High Security Unit, a prison within a prison with its own 20ft-high concrete wall and with doors opened remotely by central control.
Previous occupants have included KGB agents, train robber Ronnie Biggs and Charles Bronson – and Ross interviews one prisoner, Muhammad Asif Hafeez, known as the Sultan, who might look unassuming but is in fact the alleged mastermind of a drug-smuggling empire. He is facing extradition to the US, where he could face up 30 years in prison if convicted.
Security within the HSU is unlike any other UK jail and it even has its own segregation unit. Deep within that lies a place few know exists and even fewer have been inside – known as ‘The Box’ – with no beds, no sinks, no toilets – and no access to water. Ross discovers a unique course is also looking to change the lives of some of Belmarsh’s most dangerous offenders – gang members. Remarkably, instead of separating them, it puts them together in the same room.
The jail goes into lockdown as a protest unfolds outside the walls, because of a high-profile prisoner inside.
“The prison has now gone into ‘Command Mode’ which effectively means that the prison freezes itself. As an officer, if you’re with inmates or without inmates you basically stay in that position. The front door is locked and all decisions inside the prison all go through the command suite.” – Ross Kemp
Welcome To HMP Belmarsh With Ross Kemp tonight at 9pm on ITV, STV and UTV.