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The Three Items All Inmates Are Given When They Arrive At Britain’s Highest Security Prison

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The Three Items All Inmates Are Given When They Arrive At Britain’s Highest Security Prison

A new documentary takes us behind the scenes of HMP Belmarsh, Britain’s highest security prison, revealing what daily life is like for some of the facility's inmates. Watch a clip here: 

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HMP Belmarsh: Maximum Security offers a glimpse into ‘Britain’s most notorious lock-up', where resident prisoners over the years have included Soham murderer Ian Huntley, Grindr killer Stephen Port, black cab rapist John Worboys, the UK’s most violent prisoner Charles Bronson and Hashem Abedi, the brother of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi. 

A synopsis for the feature-length documentary, which airs on tonight (Wednesday 18 May) on Channel 5, says: “HMP Belmarsh: Maximum Security gives a remarkable and often harrowing insight into what life is really like in the prison, from the gangs which can dominate its corridors, to the brave officers who served there, and the infamous prisoners who were banged up inside.” 

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Credit: Channel 5
Credit: Channel 5

It adds: “There are 64 different gangs in the prison. Enemies outside, they’re determined to carry on their deadly battles inside. Even with the strictest regime, prison officers are just as wary of being attacked as inmates. What does it take to control the gangs? 

“The truth is revealed from the officers on the front line and the inmates they had to guard, people like ex-gang member Bobby Kasanga, and former drug addict Daniel Marczewski. 

“They bring to life in graphic detail the vicious conflicts and unthinkable acts of violence that are part of daily life inside Belmarsh.” 

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Credit: Channel 5/Google
Credit: Channel 5/Google

The programme reveals what life is like for inmates at Belmarsh, including the three things that every prisoner is given for their cell when they arrive. 

According to the documentary, all new inmates are handed ‘a TV, kettle and bedding’ upon arrival - the second item being something prisoners say can be used to help carry out brutal attacks.

Daniel Marczewski, who had ‘multiple short sentences’ for various drug related offences, explains: "Someone would fill up the jug full of boiling hot water, chuck loads of water and just chuck it on the bloke’s face. 

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"That was one of the worst things that could happen to you."

Inmates also have a ‘small weekly allowance’ to buy snacks from the canteen, meaning sought-after items ‘form the basis of an underground economy’. 

Credit: Channel 5
Credit: Channel 5

Former Belmarsh inmate Andrew Pritchard says: “It’s a packet of biscuits to get your washing sort of lifted ahead of the queue a little bit, two tins of tuna for a haircut – because obviously a haircut in prison’s a big thing. 

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“And you have various trades, so currency are tins of tuna – that’s gold standard currency; imagine tuna being gold, biscuits being silver.” 

Peter McDonagh - who was charged with attempted murder and held on remand at Belmarsh for one year, but later acquitted - adds: “You want a game of pool and you pay for a packet of Jammie Dodgers.

"If you don’t give me them Jammie Dodgers, it’s gonna go off. There’s gonna be murders.” 

Peter McDonagh. Credit: Channel 5
Peter McDonagh. Credit: Channel 5
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While officers are fine with the swap system if it remains innocent, if debts aren’t paid, it can quickly turn nasty. 

Professor James Treadwell, a Criminologist at the University of Staffordshire, says: “It might be trainers, it might be t-shirts, it might be drugs, it might be weapons – but it will also be the economy that surrounds those things. 

"It’s an unwritten rule of prison that if you borrow something, the value of that increases double a week. It’s a system known as ‘double bubble’, so if you borrow £10 from me, it’s £20 next week, it’s £40 the week after, it’s £80 the week after that.” 

Of course, the stakes are often even higher when banned items are thrown into the mix, including drugs and phones – with basic models of the latter fetching up to £1,000 inside. 

Treadwell adds: “A mobile phone that trades hands on the outside for just a few pounds? Ten times the value when you transport it into prison custody.” 

Watch HMP Belmarsh: Maximum Security tonight (Wednesday 18 May) at 9pm on Channel 5, or catch it on My5 after the documentary airs. 

Featured Image Credit: Channel 5

Topics: Documentaries, TV and Film

Jess Hardiman
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