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Welcome To HMP Belmarsh With Ross Kemp.

  • Episode:

    1 of 2

  • Transmission (TX):

    Thu 09 Jan 2020

  • TX Confirmed

    Yes

  • Time

    9.00pm - 10.00pm

  • Week:

    Week 02 2020 : Sat 04 Jan - Fri 10 Jan

  • Channel:

    ITV

  • Published:

    Thu 12 Dec 2019

The information contained herein is embargoed from all Press, online, social media, non-commercial publication or syndication - in the public domain - until Tuesday 24 December 2019.

Welcome To Hmp Belmarsh With Ross Kemp

“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 is Hellmarsh.” – Anonymous HMP Belmarsh prisoner

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. He says:

“The windows are sealed so you can’t get around the bars. [He has] his own shower facilities… It’s about what we need to do to keep prisoners and obviously the person down here safe. Or to keep them from having access to people they might be able to influence in some way. And then obviously you’ve got the exercise yard, which is self-contained. Not very nice, but yeah.”

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. Custodial manager Jamie Scammel says: “It’s all either possibly gang related before they came into prison, or someone that they’ve got conflict with on another house block. For example the historical conflict from outside: assaults, assaults, fighting, fighting, historical conflict. The level of violence is increasing, it’s just causing concern. Staff safety is obviously at risk. Prisoner safety is at risk as well.” 

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. Ross says: “It houses some of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain. No film crew has ever been granted access to it before, but I’m on my way in there now.”

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. He lived a lavish lifestyle before coming to jail, funding polo teams, and explains his wealth to Ross, saying: “My family are the number one gold and silver dealer in Dubai for the last 40 years, we have sold £2.5 billion worth of gold and silver for them in Dubai… No, I shouldn’t be in the prison. Why? I’ve never been to any jail in my life, I’m 62 years old man.” 

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. When HSU governor Helen Bicker briefly shuts Ross in, he says: “HSU feels oppressive to begin with but this has magnified it a hundred times. There’s definitely that feeling that you are completely alone. I don’t think I could spend an hour in here without going round the twist.”

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. One prisoner says: “I don’t wanna be broke, I don’t wanna come home and have no TV. I never had that push, that extra push. If feel like if I had someone there behind me, backing me I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Deputy governor Jenny Louis says: “These are individuals who are dangerous, we’re talking about gun crime, knife crime, offences that have taken peoples’ lives. A number of people wouldn’t want to even be in their company. I’m not saying that this is a miracle because it’s not, but break down those barriers and you get to know who they are. They want to change.”

The jail goes into lockdown as a protest unfolds outside the walls, because of a high-profile prisoner inside. Ross says: “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.”

This is a MultiStory Media production for ITV