Inmates 'run fight clubs' at maximum security jail
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Wednesday December 7, 2005
Gangs inside one of Britain's maximum security prisons are organising "fight clubs", usually to pay off debts, the chief inspector of prisons has revealed.
In an inspection report into Full Sutton, near York, published today, the chief inspector, Anne Owers, said the level of bullying and violence was so great that many wings were unsafe. There was evidence that gangs who had been operating on the streets continued to operate inside the jail using intimidation.
There had been an attempt to take a prison officer hostage two days before the inspectors' unannounced visit, which was only foiled because the officer had made sure the cell door could not shut. Ms Owers said security concerns had led to a ban on prisoners having access to outside sports fields and grounds - a restriction that has been extended to all eight high-security prisons in England and Wales.
Full Sutton is one of the toughest prisons in Britain. It holds nearly 600 inmates, half of whom are serving life sentences, and some of the most dangerous offenders in the country. The serial killer Dennis Nilsen, road rage killer Kenny Noye and David Bieber, the murderer of PC Ian Broadhurst, are said to be there. Sydney Noble, who was serving a life sentence for posing as a doctor to drug and rob elderly women, died in September after a beating from two other inmates in the jail.
The chief inspector said that progress had been made since her last visit in January 2003, but voiced concern that the levels of bullying and violence had increased. The emergence of evidence of fight clubs was particularly disturbing.
Ms Owers said: "Security searches of prisoners' cells revealed evidence that 'fight clubs' were being organised, usually to pay off debts. Some prisoners were being pressurised by other prisoners into fights to clear their debts. Presumably betting goes on as well."
The inspection report also says that the absence of CCTV cameras in many residential areas made the wings unsafe.
The disclosure has echoes of the 1999 Brad Pitt film Fight Club, described by its makers as "a cathartic slugfest that delivers joys of physical violence". The anarchic allegory included the tagline: "The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club."
The Prison Service was reluctant to talk about the existence of the clubs at Full Sutton last night, saying that the prison authorities had not confirmed the allegation.
Phil Wheatley, the service's director general, said: "HMP Full Sutton houses some of the country's most dangerous and violent offenders, but it has a good reputation for successfully reintegrating the most challenging individuals from segregation units into the main-wing population. We acknowledge that the anti-bullying policy at Full Sutton is in need of review, and this will take place in the next three months."
He said assaults on prisoners and staff at the prison had fallen from 38 in 2004 to 18 in 2005. But Ms Owers said there had been 55 security information reports about bullying between January and June this year, and 49 assaults had been recorded in three months in 2005.