WATCH: How contraband goods are smuggled into Pentonville prison through broken nets
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 November 2016 | UPDATED: 14:53 06 December 2016
Contraband goods were smuggled into HMP Pentonville through a hole in security netting just hours before an inmate was fatally stabbed, it has been claimed.
Video footage shot over the course of months shows packages being hoisted over the walls and through gaps in the flimsy perimeter netting in a flagrant breach of security at the Victorian jail.
Prison officers are reportedly aware of the problem but union reps say staff shortages have left them powerless to prevent the illicit drops.
Authorities have also come under fire for failing to repair the shoddy netting, with allegations weapons and drugs have been smuggled into the Caledonian Road jail through the gaping holes.
Dave Todd, Prisoner Officers Association (POA) representative for Pentonville, said: “It should be a quick fix, but for some reason there must be an absolute reluctance to do it and I can’t understand why.”
Cllr Paul Convery, who lives a few hundred yards away, told the Gazette he had been contacted by scores of people who have seen lines being thrown in to and out of Pentonville.
“The most chilling story I’ve heard was somebody saw a package go over the wall about 3pm the day before the killing took place at the prison last month,” he said. “That package could easily have contained a knife.”
YouTube clips show parcels being hooked onto metal poles and fished into the jail, often in broad daylight, while others show prisoners hurling burning rags onto nets to create more holes.
Union rep Mr Todd said the smuggled packages can contain “weapons, mobile phones, drugs and storage devices” and added: “Anything a prisoner wants they can get in”.
Staffing shortages at the prison are understood to have exacerbated the problems.
“The drops will be done when prisoners are taking an exercise period when there can be 60 of them in the yard,” said Mr Todd. “The prisoners will then huddle when a package comes over and secrete it in various orifices. Two staff do not stand a chance to intervene and recover a package.”
Cllr Convery said the black market trade has left neighbours scared and intimidated because of “what comes out through the windows and over the walls”.
He said: “Just have a net that’s made of something non-flammable, steel mesh might be the solution.
“That’s costly but if it prevents a weapon being taken into the prison that’s a cost the prison service should pay. The incredible fact is that the wall is permeable.”
‘WE CANNOT MAKE THE PRISON SAFE ANYMORE’
The security concerns came as prison officers staged a bitter protest over “toxic” conditions at HMP Pentonville on Tuesday, declaring: “We can’t make the prison safe any more.”
More than 60 guards walked out over reportedly shocking conditions and dangerously low staffing levels inside the Victorian jail.
Union representatives say two or three prison officers are expected to unlock 60 to 80 inmates from cells across two landings at the Islington jail.
“It’s just not manageable and we can’t control the prisoners,” said Mr Todd.
“If the prisoners want to inflict violence on each other they will. What are two prison officers going to be able to do?”
Random searches of prisoners’ cells have also reportedly been abandoned due to staff cuts and Mr Todd described conditions inside the jail as “dirty and depressive”.
The union says a “toxic mix” of staff shortages and officers taking time off due to mental health issues and post traumatic stress disorder means it is impossible to run a safe prison.
“You’ve got experienced staff that are saying: ‘This is too dangerous for me. I don’t want to come to work to be assaulted physically or verbally on a daily basis’,” said Mr Todd.
“We can’t make the prison safe any more. It’s asking the impossible and this action is a cry for help to listen to us and engage with us.”
Security at Pentonville has come under fire since the fatal stabbing of new father Jamal Mahmoud, 21, on the prison’s G wing on October 18.
Two men have been charged with murder and are awaiting trial.
Two prisoners, James Whitlock and Matthew Baker, also escaped from the G wing at Pentonville on November 7. They have since been re-captured by police.
The union has called for immediate action to agree safe staffing regimes at Pentonville.
Negotiations with the governor, who has been subject to a vote of no confidence by prison officers since the killing last month, were due to be begin yesterday.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We have announced a major shake-up of the prison system, with 2,500 extra prison officers and new security measures to tackle drones, phones and drugs to help make prisons places of safety and reform.
“The justice secretary has always been clear that it will take time to address these long-standing problems and we must grip the real challenges and risks that we face in the shorter term.
“That is why we have already invested £14million for more than 400 extra staff in 10 of the most challenging prisons and formed a task force to manage down potential flashpoints of unrest, as well as launching a £3million intelligence hub to tackle gang crime behind bars.”
* Share your stories or video footage of Pentonville by contacting journalist Emma Youle on 020 7433 0122 or firstname.lastname@example.org