Security alert at Belmarsh jail

A jail which holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain has significant faults in its security, the chief inspector of prisons has said.

HMP Belmarsh in south-east London has a high security unit to hold exceptional risk inmates and also houses seven suspected terrorists detained without trial under emergency legislation.

But Anne Owers found the jail's security department was "not sufficiently co-ordinated", even though officers regarded security as "the foremost priority".

The watchdog's report said: "There was little evidence of dynamic security and the routine security safeguards, such as searching, were not being carried out thoroughly."

The report highlighted the fact that four mobile phones were discovered hidden in Belmarsh in May 2003.

Mobiles are banned in prisons - especially top security Category A establishments - because inmates could use them to plan their escape, or to run their criminal empires from inside.

The report also recommended that the security department should be restructured, and managers should supervise cell searches and regularly visit the residential units.

The report said although there had been improvements at the jail - which opened in 1991 and is linked to Woolwich Crown court by a tunnel - it was suffering from a 15% staff shortage and the pressures of a record prison population.

Ms Owers said: "Though managers had succeeded in making some improvements, and there were pockets of good work, there were serious and significant shortfalls in all our four tests of a healthy prison.

"On all the indices we use - showers, phones, association, time out of cell - prisoners' experience of the regime at Belmarsh was significantly worse than the average in other local prisons."

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