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Scanner helps boost security at HMP Belmarsh

An inspection report on HMP Belmarsh has been published (Steve Parsons/PA) Photo: PA Archive/PA Images

Body-scanning technology has been deployed in a crackdown on drugs and violence at one of Britain’s most high-profile prisons.

The device, which uses low level X-rays to identify inmates concealing contraband, has been trialled in the reception area at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London.

A report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons said the scanner had led to the discovery of mobile phones, weapons and drugs which would not have been detected during a strip search.

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Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “Technology was being used to support efforts to manage violence and drug use at the prison; for example, through the body scanner being piloted in reception.

“Early results were encouraging, and I was told that staff welcomed the initiative, as did many prisoners who wanted to see the disruptive and dangerous trade in contraband disrupted.”

Data gathered during the inspection visit in January and February showed that levels of violence had increased at Belmarsh since it was last assessed in 2015.

However, in some important respects, the increase was not as significant as in many other local prisons, Mr Clarke said.

The overall level of security at the jail had helped, and the use of illegal drugs was “less of a problem than we might have expected”, he added.

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The scanners, which cost approximately £100,000 to £120,000, have been trialled at Belmarsh and HMP Wandsworth under pilots launched in October last year, as ministers and prison governors work to reduce the inflow of contraband across the estate in England and Wales.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, praised Belmarsh’s efforts, saying: “We will use learning from this to strengthen our drugs strategy across other prisons.”

Belmarsh is one of only three high-security “core” local prisons in England and Wales.

Mr Clarke described the establishment, which held 843 men at the time of the inspection, as “probably the most high-profile prison in the UK”.

A shortage of frontline staff was being addressed but had resulted in a “severely depleted” daily regime and regular redeployment of specialist personnel to ensure that even a basic period of daily unlocking time could be given, the report found.

Mr Spurr said staffing vacancies are being filled as a result of a successful recruitment campaign.