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INSIDE Belmarsh; EXCLUSIVE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PRISON GUARD AT BRITAIN'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL JAIL.

Byline: by GREIG BOX

PRISON officers have one of the most stressful jobs around. But the hardest shift of all must be working as a screw at Belmarsh - the home of Britain's toughest criminals

It houses the notorious Muslim Boys, a gang of Islamic converts with links to al-Qaeda. "Celebrity" inmates include hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza, Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs.

Known as Hellmarsh, it is not for the faint-hearted. A warder - who understandably wishes to remain anonymous - has written a diary exclusively for the Daily Mirror outlining a typical day at Britain's bleakest jail. It makes sickening reading.

7.15AM ARRIVE at work. A shiver always runs down my spine when I walk through the imposing main gate. For just over pounds 20,000 a year I work a 39-hour week trying to control Britain's hardest criminals. There is no overtime and no bank holidays.

I have to go through two air-lock doors to get inside. As the first one shuts, the other opens. I am searched. I take off my belt, watch and empty my pockets. I walk through an X-ray machine and undergo a metal-detector test and a full pat-down check. A series of solid doors and gates lead me to the house block.

7.30AM I ENTER the house block. It's an imposing series of bleak corridors. The day starts with a briefing from a senior officer in the Bubble, a soulless room at the end of the spur.

8AM WE unlock prisoners listed for legal visits, education workshops and employment. The adrenaline starts to pump as I go to open the first cell door. It's a dangerous time-the prisoners have been locked up all night and are tense.

I check first through the see-though glass hatch. The cells are modest and small. Most are adorned with posters and all have TVs. The prisoners have already eaten a breakfast of cereal, milk, a teabag, sugar and jam, which they collected the night before. Incredibly they also have a kettle. It's a massive security risk.

If a prisoner is playing up, we turn off the power and water supply to their cell and wait an hour before going in. You never know if you're going to get a kettle full of boiling water hurled at you.

Prisoners add sugar so the hot water sticks to your skin.

The highest-risk prisoners are kept in the High Security Unit. It's a jail within a jail. The talk of the unit is always Abu Hamza. None of the prisoners ever bother him. A lot of the Muslim Boys look up to him.

In addition to a portable TV, he has his own laptop provided by the Prison Service, a few books and a prayer mat.

8.30AM JUST four warders escort about 300 prisoners across the jail in secure corridors. The atmosphere is volatile as rivals face each other for the first time today. We manage to keep the peace.

9AM PRISONERS are taken to the exercise yard, legal rooms and education block. Inmates on exercise spend an hour walking around the yard in a circle. Others sit and chat.

It is a good time to gather intelligence - who is talking to who. But this is also where arguments are settled.

We watch from behind a glass door. There are 125 prisoners in the yard and just three warders. If it kicks off, the door will be locked and an alarm sounded. Life has got tougher recently. Officers are getting beaten up almost every week.

Every officer's instinct is to protect his mates. But we can barely touch the prisoners nowadays and they know it. In the old days prisoners could have time added to their sentences and that was a deterrent. Now they just get a slap on the wrist. We feel undermined at every turn.

A couple of prisoners push and shove in the yard. Others egg them on. It could turn nasty. We shout for order and luckily it calms down.

11AM BACK to the house block for mealtime. We can't say the word "feed" any more because that's what you give to animals, apparently. It's ridiculous. The prisoners return to their cells for cutlery. We're supposed to call cells "rooms" now, but we don't.

They are taken to get food in groups of six. Today's dish is egg and chips. Vegetarian and Halal options are also available. They return to their cells to eat. While this is going on, 300 other prisoners return from workshops. We're stretched trying to control the feed and the free-flow.

12.15PM EVERYONE is locked up. A head count is done - if everything adds up, we go to lunch. The staff room is depressing and windowless. We share small talk, but morale is low. We are criticised for not understanding the cultural needs of prisoners but most of us think Belmarsh bends over backwards for Muslim inmates.

1.30PM BACK to the grind. It's vital I'm not caught out by a post-lunch lull.

2PM UNLOCK. Again, I'm careful to check the cells before I turn the key. Sometimes a prisoner hurls urine and excrement at us. They smear it all over the walls and we have to clean it up.

2.30PM FREE flow again as prisoners are escorted to afternoon jobs and visits.

4PM LOCK prisoners up. One snarled: "I'll get you, screw." I let it was hover me. But I remember the face for future reference.

5PM ASSOCIATION. I dread this. All the prisoners are let out for recreation. They play pool or table tennis, use exercise bikes, watch TV and chat.

It is the only time when all the prisoners from a block are together in one room. The atmosphere is tetchy and I feel outnumbered. If it kicks off, we' rein big trouble. Inmates eye each other. The big boys have an audience, scores are settled and deals are made.

So Solid Crew rapper Dwayne Vincent was freed this week on bail. He used to strut around in his dressing gown. Everyone knew who he was and he loved the notoriety. But some of the big boys resented him and he was beaten up.

A troublemaker suddenly picks a fight with a rival. All hell breaks loose. I hit the alarm. We try to reach the fight but other prisoners form a barrier. They want to watch it.

We battle to regain order. The noise is deafening as prisoners shout and scream. Suddenly one of them goes down. We move in and everyone is ordered back to their cells. One of them is taken to the health care unit for a check-up.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs is a fixture here. He's fading fast. The poor soul can't speak and uses a spelling board to communicate. He gives a lot of thumbs-up signs as he watches television.

7PM LOCK down. Prisoners shout, rap tin cans against the bars and kick their cell doors. Belmarsh is tough for the staff but not the inmates. For them it's a holiday camp.

Some prisoners just want to serve their time. But there are a lot I can't trust. One minute the will smile and chat and the next they'll run at you with a homemade knife.

7.30PM DRAINED and tired, it's home time. Thank God another shift is over.

greig.box@mirror.co.uk NOTORIOUS INMATES

ABU HAMZA

THE hook-handed cleric arrived at Belmarsh in May 2004 after he was jailed for seven years on charges of inciting murder and race hate. US authorities are seeking his extradition.

RONNIE BIGGS

THE Great Train Robber has been in Belmarsh since returning to the UK in 2001 after 35 years on the run. He escaped from jail after serving 15 months of a 30-year sentence.

CHARLES BRONSON

DUBBED Britain's most danger ousconvict, armed robber Bronson was transfer red from Belmarsh to Wakefield after taking three prisoners hostage in 1996.

DAVID COPELAND

THE nail bomber was held on remand for 10 months at Belmarsh while awaiting his murder trial. He was jailed for life in 2000 and sent to Broadmoor top-security hospital.

IAN HUNTLEY

JAILED for life for the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Huntley had a special isolation cell built to contain him until he was transferred to Wakefield.

GANG WAR AND RIOTS

VIOLENT prisoners have subjected Belmarsh to a reign of terror for years.

In recent times, the Muslim Boys gang has attacked officers and rival prisoners.

Only last week a prisoner was beaten by eight others after apparently trying to leave the Muslim Boys.

In February, three prison officers were attacked in one day - one was battered with a pool cue and a sock filled with tins of tuna.

So Solid Crew rapper Dwayne Vincent was slashed across his neck with a knife made from three razor blades and a toothbrush in December last year.

Last year 14 officers were injured in a riot in the visitors' centre.

And 23 prisoners were transferred after a riot lasting eight hours in 2002.

In 1994 inmates smashed their cells after officers refused to hand over a Christmas cake which had been given to them as a present.

This place is tough for warders but like Butlin's for inmates

CAPTION(S):

BLEAK HOUSE: Belmarsh Prison' SLASHED: So Solid's Dwayne
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 22, 2006
Words:1555
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