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‘Britain's Alcatraz’ was made in response to a notorious prison escape

‘Britain's Alcatraz’ was made in response to a notorious prison escape

HMP Whitemoor was built after one of the worst prison escapes in British history, but even this unit couldn't contain some offenders.

A prison dubbed 'Britain's Alcatraz' was built after an infamous escape involving two convicts and a helicopter, and is now home to some of the nation's most notorious criminals.

Designed to be an 'impregnable' concrete fortress and replace the crumbling Victorian prisons of old, HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire opened in 1991 and welcomed its first inmates later that year.

The maximum security prison even features a secondary prison inside its razor wire fences, which keeps everyone from terrorists and crime lords to professional hitmen locked up.

The notorious prison has housed some of Britain's worst offenders.
Channel 5

With its three caged-off prison areas, escape-proof razor fences and 24/7 CCTV surveillance, this self-contained walled city houses ‘offenders of the worst kind’, according to criminal expert and journalist, Geoffrey Wansell.

Speaking in Channel 5 documentary Inside HMP Whitemoor: Evil Behind Bars, he told filmmakers: “It was designed to be impregnable… somewhere you’d never escape from.”

HMP Whitemoor was designed as an 'inescapable' concrete fortress.
Channel 5

The author said the prison was built specifically in response to the 1987 helicopter escape from HMP Gartree, and even held one of the conspirators to the prison break.

Indeed, while over the years the maximum security unit has welcomed some of the worst offenders from the British criminal underworld - such as Manchester’s Mr Big, Paul Massey, M25 killer Kenneth Noye, as well as London Bridge terrorist, Usman Khan - there’s one prisoner who was watched more than most: Andrew Russell.

He had been convicted of the audacious 1987 prison break from HMP Gartree, which involved the convict hijacking a helicopter to help two men escape.

Andrew Russell.
PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Though it sounds like the plot of a Hollywood film, the Londoner boarded the chopper and held the pilot captive at gunpoint.

Having secured a vehicle, Russell forced the unwitting man to land on Gartree’s football pitch as other prisoners exercised.

In the ensuing chaos, gangster John Kendall and convicted murderer Sydney Draper dashed towards the chopper in a bold escape attempt.

Andrew Russell was a collaborator in Britain's most daring prison break.
Channel 5

Waiting for them was Russell, who helped the men to freedom - and within seconds, they were gone and heading towards a transit van which awaited them just over the county border.

The escape became a national scandal and resulted in an extensive manhunt for all three men, with the Ministry of Justice calling for a new prison in response to the embarrassing incident.

Russell was jailed less than two months later for his part in the HMP Gartree escape, but it wouldn't be long until he tried to break out.

The SSU is completely self contained within HMP Whitemoor.
The Woodcock Enquiry

Although HMP Whitemoor was much more secure, Russell would collaborate with several IRA members held in the prison’s notorious Special Secure Unit – a second smaller prison inside Whitemoor’s walls.

Together, they used volleyball posts and gym equipment to make ladders to scale the prison's multiple defences as they dashed towards a disused railway line.

Despite having smuggled a firearm into the unit, the would-be escapees were recaptured in minutes.

Inside HMP Whitemoor: Evil Behind Bars is available to watch now on My5.

Featured Image Credit: Channel 5 PA/Alamy

Topics: Crime, True Crime, TV and Film, Terrorism