Spice smoked openly in rat-infested cells, daredevil jail break & sex scandals…inside ‘out of control’ Wandsworth prison

IT’S the prison that sent the internet wild after a video was posted online allegedly showing a female prison officer having sex with an inmate in a cell.

Police launched an urgent investigation into the video which was allegedly filmed by another inmate at HMP Wandsworth who appeared to be smoking drugs.

Linda De Sousa Abreu has been charged with misconduct in public office after the tape emerged

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Linda De Sousa Abreu has been charged with misconduct in public office after the tape emerged
Built in 1851, Wandsworth has a capacity of 1456 prisoners

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Built in 1851, Wandsworth has a capacity of 1456 prisonersCredit: Getty
Lags openly smoke drugs in filthy cells

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Lags openly smoke drugs in filthy cellsCredit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

Linda De Sousa Abreu, 30, of Fulham in southwest London, has been charged with misconduct in public office, the Metropolitan Police said.

But while the video shocked the nation, it comes as no surprise to those who have lived and worked there.

Former inmate David Shipley, now a campaigner for prison reform, described HMP Wandsworth as “the worst run organisation” I have ever seen, and says inexperienced, stressed and overworked staff often turn a blind eye to drug taking and other misdemeanours because it is too much effort.

While the prison’s former volunteer chaplain Liz Bridge says far from being a “holiday camp with lots of free sex” it is a place of “desperation” where a lack of adequate washing facilities mean men struggle to keep themselves clean.

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Escape of terror suspect

It’s not the first scandal at the prison to hit the headlines.

In September, terror suspect Daniel Khalife sparked a nationwide search when he escaped from the maximum security jail.

The 22-year-old former soldier, who had been working in the prison kitchen, is thought to have clung to the underside of a food delivery truck using torn up bedsheets to make his escape.

He was caught 72 hours later, in West London, after a costly police operation involving 150 officers, border force guards and helicopters.    

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In the same week, another inmate was left in a critical condition after being stabbed in a row with a fellow lag.

A report on HMP Wandsworth, published in October, found there were more than ten assaults on staff every week.

Female HMP Wandsworth prison officer who filmed sex tape with inmate is a married swinger who appeared in Channel 4 doc
Daniel Khalife escaped from HMP Wandsworth in September 2023

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Daniel Khalife escaped from HMP Wandsworth in September 2023Credit: PA
Contraband booze is seized by an officer in a BBC documentary

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Contraband booze is seized by an officer in a BBC documentaryCredit: BBC
Sniffer dogs seek out drugs and helped unearth 210 stashes in a year

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Sniffer dogs seek out drugs and helped unearth 210 stashes in a yearCredit: BBC

Prisoners also had easy access to contraband with 1,900 litres of illicitly brewed alcohol – about five litres a day – being confiscated over the year.

More than 300 mobile telephones and 210 drug stashes were found, with drones used to send goods over the prison walls.

Liz Bridge says both drugs and phones are big currency in Wandsworth so prisoners will go to great lengths to obtain them.

“How do drugs and phones get in? How long is a piece of string?” she says. “The prison authorities say drones. The ex- prisoners say corrupt staff – officers, workmen, nurses, support workers – the list is endless. 

“The profit margins are extraordinary – a mobile will sell for £500 to £1000 in the prison, with similar margins on tobacco and all drugs.  

“A dealer will be prepared to pay very large sums to anyone who works in the prison to act as a courier.”

Former inmate David says the report mirrors his experience in Wandsworth after he was jailed for fraud back in 2020.

“Everyone focuses on the drugs, the violence, the squalor but I think what often gets missed is that Wandsworth is the worst run organisation I have ever seen,” he says.

“It would be comedic if it wasn’t so grim.

The profit margins are extraordinary – a mobile will sell for £500 to £1000 in the prison, with similar margins on tobacco and all drugs

Liz Bridge, ex prison chaplain

“Nothing works, the management doesn’t really have a clue what is going on on the wings, often people don’t know where officers are at given times, people often don’t know where prisoners are.

“There is supposed to be a log of where everyone is at any given time but that is not maintained properly.

“Nothing functions, and you can only get a situation where a prison officer can be having sex in a cell with two prisoners in there with the door closed, the panel covered over and someone filming it and smoking something, in an environment where there is just no control.

“Before I went to prison I imagined it would be a really disciplined place with order and rules. But it is the opposite, it is chaotic and in lots of ways rules aren’t enforced because no-one can be bothered or it is too much effort.”

Drug stashes are frequently found in cells

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Drug stashes are frequently found in cellsCredit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
Conditions are described as 'inhumane'

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Conditions are described as ‘inhumane’Credit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

Staff turn blind eye

David said the wings were often filled with the distinctive smell of cannabis or spice, but officers would walk past the cell doors and ignore it.

And high rates of staff absenteeism mean that staff are overstretched.

He says: “There would often be situations where those smells were coming from a particular cell and officers would just walk past and ignore it because it is too much effort, and if someone is sitting quietly smoking drugs they aren’t causing a problem.

“On paper Wandsworth is fully staffed but on any given day about a third of the staff are sick or absent for some reason. So in reality they aren’t fully staffed.

“Mostly when I was at Wandsworth it was pretty junior staff on the wings, in their early 20s with maybe six-12 months on the job experience.

“Often young men and women go into the prison service with good intentions, they want to make a difference. So they may be young and naive. In that environment if they are not overseen by more experienced hands they can be slightly at risk of being corrupted or manipulated by older more experienced organised criminals.”

UK’s prison crisis

  • Britain’s prison population has risen by 93 per cent since 1990, according to Ministry of Justice data record high of nearly 88,000. The Ministry of Justice predicts it will rise to 99,300 by the end of next year
  • Official data shows there is only capacity to house a further 1,411 prisoners. 
  • Currently,  around 4,400 new spaces are planned – for an estimated 12,000 more prisoners.
  • However the Prison Officers Association (POA) claims the number is far lower, at just 200.
  • Prison officer numbers have fallen by 10 per cent since 2009 and lack of experience is also an issue.
  • Half of prison staff have less than five years’ experience, more than double the number in 2009, according to the Institute for Government (IfG).
  • Britain’s Victorian prisons are crumbling. In July 2023, prisons needed £1.4bn in urgent repair works, including urgent fire safety issues –  a 56 per cent rise since 2019.
  • Mark Fairhurst, chairman of the POA, said: “Conditions are as bad as they were in 1990 when Strangeways [prison, in Greater Manchester] started a wave of riots throughout the country. Except now we have got 4,000 fewer staff and double the amount of prisoners.

Rats and pigeons

The latest report, published in May, also blasted the prison as “unsafe and inhumane” with severe overcrowding, vermin, and rising violence among inmates. 

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor issued an “urgent notification” about conditions in the jail, and wrote in his report that the environment in the south-west London prison was characterised by “a degree of despondency he had not come across in his time as chief inspector”.

The prison’s governor Katie Price resigned during the inspection, which also found 80 per cent of prisoners shared cells designed for one person, and most men spent more than 22 hours a day confined to these cramped, squalid, conditions with no idea if or when they would leave them or have any access to fresh air. Prisoners on one wing had been unable even to shower for five days. 

There would often be situations where those smells were coming from a particular cell and officers would just walk past and ignore it because it is too much effort and if someone is sitting quietly smoking drugs they aren’t causing a problem

David Shipley, former inmate

Liz Bridge was a volunteer chaplain at Wandsworth for eight years, and is now part of the Wandsworth Prison Improvement Campaign.

She says poor hygiene is a huge problem, as well as staffing issues.

“It is not a holiday camp with lots of free sex,” she says. “It is a dreadfully dreary, miserable place where there aren’t enough officers. This incident is a symptom of its disintegration. It isn’t a happy place for anyone.

 “There is a lot of vermin – rats and pigeons – people are on very long lockdowns, so they are not out of their cells, so they throw rubbish out of their windows which attracts vermin. It is a place of desperation, so pretty ordinary men when they come out are quite desperate.”

Rubbish attracts vermin

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Rubbish attracts verminCredit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
The old building is damp and mouldy

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The old building is damp and mouldyCredit: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
David Shipley says the prison is 'out of control'

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David Shipley says the prison is ‘out of control’Credit: Supplied

The inspection, conducted in April and May this year, also found there had been seven suicides in the last 12 months and levels of violence far above similar prisons. Almost 70 per cent of inmates reported feeling unsafe, and overall violence had increased since the last inspection.

Liz was asked to leave her role after she gave small amounts of money to some prisoners who were due to be released without telling prison authorities.

But that hasn’t stopped her campaigning for improved conditions.

She says: “There are not enough clothes for kit changes, often they run out of bedding so there aren’t bedding changes, and there aren’t enough showers running so men can’t get to showers. For most men in there who are fairly ordinary it is just about how to survive day to day. 

“Even strip washing is hard – they don’t give you a plug, and the taps you have to hold down to get the water out, and it would have to be done in front of the person you are sharing with and you are given one towel which is never changed. For lots and lots of ordinary men – the VAT avoiders and dangerous drivers, or people who do fraud on the internet, come from quite squeaky clean and ordinary homes and they are struggling to keep themselves clean.”

David Shipley agrees, saying: “The living conditions are pretty terrible. It is filthy, it is badly maintained. The water goes off all the time, the electricity goes off all the time.

“But just making it clean wouldn’t solve the fact that there is limited staff, inexperienced staff, and the Governors aren’t out on the wings making sure the rules are enforced.”

A Prison Service spokesperson told The Sun: “We’re improving conditions at HMP Wandsworth by increasing staffing levels and undertaking upgrades such as new CCTV and windows, roof repairs and refurbished healthcare facilities.”

They added that “staff corruption is not tolerated” and “the overwhelming majority of our prison staff are hardworking and honest and we are dedicated to rooting out those who are not.”

Cells are overcrowded and dirty

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Cells are overcrowded and dirtyCredit: Alamy
Liz Bridge, former chaplain says drugs and phones are smuggled in by staff

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Liz Bridge, former chaplain says drugs and phones are smuggled in by staff

Following the Chief Inspector of Prisons’ damning report in May, then Prisons minister Edward Argar said: “This is a deeply concerning report which shows HMP Wandsworth continues to face significant challenges and it is clear that, on top of the additional support we’ve already provided since September to improve safety and security, including nearly £1m of upgrades, we need to go further still.

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”In the coming weeks, we will be strengthening the management team with extra experienced staff to provide the leadership, culture change and training needed to turn Wandsworth around.

“In the interim we are deploying more staff, including prison officers, to the prison and will set out further action shortly.”