NB: THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT: BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.
LIFE BEHIND BARS
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE
JEREMY VINE: Hello, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. Prison officers in fear of their lives.
INMATE: Did you hear me? I said me and you are gonna fall out.
WOMAN OFFICER: They're going to kill me, I do believe.
VINE: Prisoners murdered in their cells, dying from neglect.
WOMAN OFFICER: I looked through the cell door and there was just blood.
VINE: And officers on the take. Life in one of Britain's privately run gaols. Is this the future of our prison system?
INMATE: I'd say she was getting £1500 off of us.
VINE: A murder, two suicides and officers accused of bringing in drugs. Life behind bars at Her Majesty's private prison Rye Hill. Tonight Panorama goes inside with our very own undercover prison officer. He found a gaol struggling to keep both prisoners and officers safe, where inmates run their own criminal empires on mobile phones from the comfort of their cells, and where prison staff who try to enforce the rules are openly threatened.
Only eight other prisons in the country have a higher security rating than Rye Hill. Amongst the 600 inmates are criminals notorious for the Iranian Embassy siege and the Strangeways prison riots. Not a single new prison opened in the last ten years is state run. Being banged up has gone corporate and global, spanning three continents GSL operate from the south of England to South Africa to South Australia with profits last year of eight million pounds.
For five months our undercover team infiltrated this purpose built prison, visiting inmates and receiving regular phone calls.
FORMER INMATE: [on telephone] Right, now listen, I want to talk to you about Rye Hill if that's alright.
VINE: And one training and working full-time as a prison custody officer on the wings. A random cell search on Davies Wing and Hooch, the inmates' illicit home brew is discovered.
INMATE: You know I just **** cleaned the wing, here.
VINE: Two officers have been assaulted, the hooch has been thrown at them and it's all over the landing.
WOMAN OFFICER: They kicked it over shouting: "You ain't having it." If it's out of his cell you can't do him for it. There's nothing there, is there?
VINE: Just qualified, along with our undercover reporter, this new prison officer is causing problems. The prisoners don't like her because she is determined to enforce the rules. There are veiled threats.
INMATE: It's gonna happen. She's got no... How can I put it? There's no decorum. Listen, there's a lot of tension on the wing, isn't there?
WOMAN OFFICER: It's really tense out there at the moment.
MALE OFFICER: Are you ready to lock up?
WOMAN OFFICER: Yeah.
VINE: The wing is shutting up for the night.
INMATE: I'm getting me hair cut. How can she direct me to go behind the door?
VINE: This prisoner is refusing the same new officer's request to go to his cell because he's having his hair done!
INMATE: But I'm getting my hair cut! What do you want me to do? Stop? What do you want me to do? Stop? Gimme what you gimme I don't give ****. **** off.
VINE: The prisoners are telling her to back off, as is a senior prison officer who passed on a warning from this inmate, Mr Whittington, that the new girl is "pushing her luck."
WOMAN OFFICER: Mr Whittington had told her to tell me that he'd got my back, that something was going to happen to me, and to stop doing my job. And *** was saying: "You really need to stop it now."
KEN, UNDERCOVER REPORTER: Told you you should stop doing your job?
WOMAN OFFICER: Yeah?" She said: "If you find hooch, just ask them if they want to pour it away." She's like... Pardon?
KEN: What? A PCO is asking you not to do your job?
VINE: The penalty for a prison custody officer not backing off can be violent. For months, along with the Guardian newspaper's prison correspondent we've been talking to inmates who confirm it's an ongoing, longstanding problem.
INMATE: [on telephone] I've witnessed inmates being paid drugs to go and assault a member of staff just to get the member of staff off the wing because they didn't like that particular member of staff. Now if a member of staff was doing the job properly the inmates didn't like that. And basically then, the staff that suited the prisoners were the ones who turned a blind eye, or were too frightened to challenge them.
VINE: A new day inside Rye Hill and the intimidation is growing.
WOMAN OFFICER: He started... he picked up a pool cue. He was like that [hold knife threateningly] "You stay away from me this morning. I've had enough of you." I said: "Are you threatening me?" "You do what you want to do. I'm gonna smash your face in."
INMATE: Did you hear me? I said me and you are gonna fall out.
VINE: She's feeling completely unsupported and it's taking its toll.
WOMAN OFFICER: The thing is, I'm feeling very threatened. I don't tell them a that.
KEN: It's not very safe, is it.
WOMAN OFFICER: No, that's what I'm saying, I'm not feeling safe because of the staff. And I don't know if I can be bothered with it for the money. They're going to kill me I do believe.
VINE: In 2005 Her Majesty's Prisons Inspectorate visited Rye Hill. What they found then was inexperienced officers up against very experienced prisoners.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
We wrote to ministers and I asked that urgent action should be taken, and we would not have done that except for the fact that we felt the situation at Rye Hill was extremely volatile, and the prisoners felt that it was volatile. Prisoners wanted more control in the prison.
Communications Director, GSL
People shouldn't be surprised the fact that criminals in a prison seek to coerce staff into making their lives easier, and we don't hide from that fact and that's why during the training we return to that theme regularly.
But she's frightened.
BATES: Well she shouldn't be frightened, she's fully supported. Absolutely first class that she is trying to apply the rules.
VINE: But lack of management support at Rye Hill was directly blamed for the suicide of a prisoner, a drug dealer, Michael Bailey, by officers accused in a manslaughter trial that ended two weeks ago. Their defence, the three said they were inadequately trained by GSL and so short-staffed they couldn't do their jobs properly. The officers on trial were paired with new recruits on the segregation unit where Michael Bailey died. GSL seemed not to be able to say whether this broke their own policy. They told HM inspectors they have a rule. You need 12 months experience before you work on the unit that used to be called solitary confinement, but then they told us: "The is no rule"! So, confusion?
It's apparent from the evidence that quite a number of the officers who were working there had no experience whatsoever, not only segregation but in the prison generally.
VINE: Three days before Michael died his mother says she warned prison management that her son had already tried to hang himself, though on suicide watch he was left with his shoe laces in a poorly designed, badly maintained cell. Michael was equipped to hang himself. He finally succeeded.
What happened to him is unwarranted, it isn't right. You know, you go into prison for a crime, you know, they have a duty of care towards you. You know, you have a right to life. Why should you come out in a body bag? That's not what you go into prison for.
VINE: The judge threw out all the charges against the officers on trial but said Michael Bailey's death had been avoidable.
DAVID LEIGH: I hope that today's decision will focus attention on the way in which Rye Hill prison is run, and that responsibility for Mr Bailey's death will be placed where it truly belongs.
VINE: Eighteen months after Michael Bailey's suicide Panorama's fledgling prison officer joined the ranks of Rye Hill. Surely GSL had learnt the lessons of Michael Bailey's death. Well - they hadn't. Within a week of qualifying, our officer is working in the segregation unit, one of only two officers in charge of the most difficult prisoners in the gaol.
KEN: What, is there a shortage of staff?
OFFICER: Shortage of staff everywhere. It's just manic. People ringing in sick because of the weather. It was worse yesterday.
VINE: They're so short-staffed the 12 months rule is quite literally down the pan.
OFFICER: We've got two dirty protests in 11 and 14. They're on 15 minute observations, next one's quarter past eleven.
INMATE: Hey you cheeky ****
VINE: The dirty protesters have covered their cells with their own excrement.
INMATE: The first person that comes in in the morning I am **** up. Simple as.
VINE: Management insists this is better than it was.
OFFICER: The units were nothing like they are now. Prisoners were running riot on the units, so we turned it round in the last ten months.
VINE: But over a third of their 150 staff leave each year, though GSL say in the last three months they've only lost six. GSL employ just two officers per wing of 80 criminals. In a government prison there would be at least three or four.
OFFICER: [Entering cell] Any unauthorised items in here? What is it, hooch?
VINE: In a cell search another valuable stash of illicit booze has been found.
OFFICER: We'll tip it away.
VINE: The two officers on the wing have sounded the alarm. They've got some backup leaving other wings short-staffed. This prisoner is not giving up his booze without a fight. Because there are only two of them, wing officers at Rye Hill can't do basic control and restraint. Prison Service says it takes three and that's mandatory, but GSL say that is not a legal requirement.
WOMAN OFFICER: Could you uncross your legs at the back, mate?
VINE: This brewer is off to seg. Officers feel vulnerable.
OFFICER: They can't keep ignoring it. And that's what senior management do. They just ignore the fact that that unit is **** and the prisoners are running it. And they are. I'm scared when I go on there.
VINE: That prison officer has every reason to be worried. We've obtained the duty director's daily incident log. Here it is for the past two years, and it is filled with references to assaults on officers, fights between inmates, cells set alight and even a hostage taking, and then there are the weapons. A kitchen knife was never found, screwdrivers went missing and home made blades are all in here. During our reporter's time inside Rye Hill there was a triple stabbing and it's referred to in here simply as 'an incident'! GSL say they reported the details officially elsewhere, but it's already happened, the inevitable result of weapons on the wings. As the police investigation into Michael Bailey's suicide got underway, there was another death. This time it was murder - a stabbing! The victim, convicted robber Wayne Reid was just five days from being released when two inmates went to 'have a word with him.'
ANTHONY REID: They made their way to his cell one afternoon about 4 o'clock, went into the cell and started to fight with my brother. It's clear that they went with intention to kill him because they had knives.
VINE: Wayne Reed was stabbed twice through the heart. His attackers had a history of using blades.
ANTHONY & JASON REID
It just beggars belief that you can be in a prison for a violent crime, there is a known-culture of animosity between and the prison had no ability to intervene, that to me is disgraceful.
VINE: Last summer Ibrahim Musone and Bisharat Chaudry were convicted of Wayne Reid's murder and gaoled for life. The murder could not have happened at a worse time. Along with the police, Her Majesty's inspectors were actually inside the prison.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
The killing, when they were there, didn't change their view of Rye Hill. They had already established to their own satisfaction that they felt that it was unsafe, unstable, for both prisoners and staff.
VINE: Back on the wings and the prisoners have spotted a fresh green prison officer, our man undercover.
INMATE: That means you're only a trainee - you shouldn't be left on yourself. Oi, screw! Oi, copper!
VINE: These prisoners know the system better than him. He's on the wing with 80 of them. What's worse, as a trainee, he's not allowed keys so he's at the prisoners' mercy. No means of escape, no radio!
INMATE: When are they gonna give you a key?
KEN: I dunno. Soon, I hope.
INMATE: It's mad, innit? You can't do nothing if you ain't got no key.
KEN: Or radio (laugh) Yeah, if it kicks off, I'm stuffed.
VINE: But while our officer doesn't have any keys, there is someone who does, a prisoner! Every night he unlocks this manager's office. The prisoners then use his phone to call their girlfriends. One prisoner was actually caught but nothing was done, and officers claim it is still going on.
WOMAN OFFICER: I can't believe that he hasn't been punished or interviewed after you caught him the first time. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They just ignored it.
OFFICER: They don't want the HOC to have a sniff of it.
VINE: The HOC is the Home Office Controller, based inside Rye Hill he has the power to fine GSL for failings. Missing keys would mean a penalty.
OFFICER: That's a big security risk.
WOMAN OFFICER: They should have to tell the government anything that's reported, anything like a gate open, and report it.
VINE: The officers may believe it but GSL say it's absolutely not true. They say they've accounted for all keys and they always file reports as required to the Home Office Controller. This state of the art prison is only six years old. In the UK, Australia and South Africa GSL are expanding their empire by £35 million a year, but the pillars are quite literally crumbling.
KEN: These bricks are quite soft, aren't they?
OFFICER: Yeah, they're ever so soft these are.
KEN: Why is that?
OFFICER: It's just the texture of them. They're quite hardwearing. They're what they call a semi-engineering brick, but if anything touches them, they just smash.
KEN: Not very good for a prison though, is it.
OFFICER: (laughs) Not really.
VINE: Recycling though is alive and well in HMP Rye Hill. This cell is empty. The bars here are being removed to fit to another cell on Davies Wing.
KEN: I'm sure it doesn't take long to pull it back out.
OFFICER: It doesn't, that's what they're just saying. This lad will tell you how quickly you can get them out.
VINE: "This lad" out of shot, is the drugs runner. He ripped off the bars on cell windows overlooking the yard from Davies Wing and then it was easy to peel away the window frames. GSL say they are now working with the windows manufacturers to solve this problem. A phone call away our former Rye Hill inmate told us all about the windows.
FORMER INMATE: [on telephone] That Davies Wing was a volatile wing. There was always wheeling and dealing, they'd take windows out to pass drugs from Carling to Davies, you know, the Perspex windows that they had.
VINE: So the windows are doubling up as a serving hatch for drugs. But the drugs have to make it into the prison first. With new military grade perimeter sensors the alarm has gone up. The foot soldiers, including our man, have scrambled. Contacts of the inmates on the outside have thrown drugs over the wall to prisoners on exercise.
OFFICER: Do you know if we've got them all?
WOMAN OFFICER: I'll find out.
OFFICER: That's received. They're long gone.
VINE: The officers just aren't quick enough. It's the prisoners and their back up who are winning this race and it's a daily occurrence.
OFFICER: Davies, yesterday morning, the exercise at breakfast. 17 packages were thrown over. We got 4, they got 13.
VINE: So the prisoners got 13, the prison only 4 packages. It's not surprising the officers are on the end of a thrashing when GSL leave the goal wide open.
KEN: This is where they normally come through the fence and then they make their way down to the prison wall and throw contraband over.
VINE: In the prison's duty incident log 'throw-overs' are mentioned time and time again. Anything from 8 to 18 over the wall at any one time. But the one incident logged more than any other last year involves a burglar called Baronovsky. Gaoled for 7 years he targeted the jewellery counters of London's top stores. Five months after being transferred to Rye Hill, Oleksi Baronovsky was dead. Another suicide.
He'd started to harm himself. For two months he went from prison to hospital and back again. He was put on constant suicide watch. When one officer took over one night, she was appalled by what she found. Health Care had refused to see Baronovsky for hours. That officer wanted her identity hidden.
WOMAN OFFICER: I looked through the cell door and there was just blood and I didn't recognise this person laying on his bed. He was injured at 2 o'clock in the morning. It was five to nine that night and that man wasn't cleaned up, he wasn't medicated, 18 hours later.
VINE: She helped half carry Baronovsky to the Health Care wing. She was so shocked by the way he'd been left she bypassed GSL and wrote directly to the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
WOMAN OFFICER: I don't know why no one else made a fuss. All staff have a duty of care to the people that they're looking after, and I just felt that I cannot allow myself to be a part of this.
VINE: Two weeks later, on June 10th last year, Oleksi Baronovsky died. Panorama has obtained a letter from GSL written to the Chief Inspector.
"Clearly Mr Baronovsky's treatment was not of the standard that either GSL or I expect, and that is a matter of sincere regret to myself."
VINE: The prison ombudsman is still investigating. Fifteen hundred miles away in the Ukraine Baronovsky's family were the last to hear he'd died. Even if the next of kin live as far away as Odessa the Prison Service told Panorama it is the duty of the prison to inform the family as soon as possible. Yet it was six months before the Baronovskys were told.
I wrote three letters to this prison without getting a letter back. It seems my son was already dead when I sent them.
Communications Director, GSL
Mr Baronovsky had served in a number of prisons and when his file came to us, when we asked for next of kin details he declined to give them to us. That's not an unusual thing for prisoners to do, but of course it means in very tragic circumstances we're unable to pass the very tragic news to the family and relatives.
VINE: But although the family had been told they'd been hard to trace, it took our researcher in the Ukraine just ten minutes to look them up in the Odessa phone book on the internet. But Rye Hill didn't even have to do that.
STANISLAVE BARONOVSKY: The thing is, I wrote those letters myself and my return address was on the envelopes.
VINE: But if tracking down prisoners' relatives is not GSL's forte then this should be. Remember the drugs throw-overs? Contacts from the outside throwing to prisoners on the inside, passing to dealers in their cells. And in a random cell search the end result, first hand evidence of class A drugs.
KEN: [Examining evidence] It's what they smoke heroin off, isn't it?
WOMAN OFFICER: Yeah.
VINE: Two thirds of inmates are banged up in Britain because of drug related crimes. Rye Hill is no exception. So our reporter made an appointment with the prisons security manager to tell him his concerns.
SECURITY MANAGER: Normally, you'll find the dealers - you never see 'em. Very quiet, always polite to staff, compliant. The bagheads, the joeys, they're the gob**** they're the runners who'll do anything. They'll sell their grandmother for a bag of heroin or whatever, they're your problems. But your main men, they're in the cells organising it on their mobiles and it's difficult to pin them.
VINE: Yes, you heard him right, drug dealers in their corporate offices, otherwise known as cells, conducting their businesses from their mobile phones. So step one to getting ahead in the drugs trade in Rye Hill is to get yourself a mobile phone.
INMATE: Come with me.
VINE: It didn't take long for our reporter to be approached by a middle man to become a partner in the business.
INMATE: A camera phone goes for £500.. £500 to £600, £700. A normal phone... like not a camera, will go for £250.
VINE: The inmates may be more attractive bosses than GSL. Wages are good. Payment is prompt. Same day wireless transfer and telephone banking.
INMATE: Western Union, that's easy, I can make one phone call and you'll get the money today. If I phone today and get the bank manager and say: "Give him £300, £800" he'll get it to you. That's how easy it is.
VINE: So our reporter gave the inmate his number investigating how prisoners recruit officers.
VOICE: Taped message.
INMATE: Yeah, it's Dillon here. If you have any chip... mobile phone chip, yeah, just bring them in for me, yeah? Don't ring me tonight because I might not be with my phone. I've lent my phone to someone else, yeah?
VINE: Yes, this is a prisoner calling our off duty officer from his mobile. A whole new meaning to the word 'cell phone'! Staff in this private prison are vulnerable. They earn a third less than their state colleagues. For a new boy it's just £250 a week.
INMATE: So are you right for it?
KEN: It's a bit tight at the moment.
INMATE: Well when you're ready let me know and I'll start with a tester first. I'll give you 5 ton to bring a bar of weed in. Just let me know and then once we know it's right we'll go up to the 15 ton mark.
VINE: £1500 is more than GSL pay him in a month. Two officers have been suspended in the last three months suspected of corruption, drug smuggling. There is at least one other officer on this inmate's payroll.
INMATE: Obviously, as you know, I'm with someone else. The other man is totally undercover. You'll know who he is, he sits with us but he's totally undercover. But **** ring tonight and we'll have a proper chat.
VINE: Our undercover officer reporting these grooming attempts and his concerns about other staff.
SECURITY MANAGER: Yeah, there is drugs in the prison possibly. Intelligence suggests staff are bringing it in, but that's the same in any prison. You know, staff corruption is... you know, we're not the only prison. I think every prison in the country has corrupt staff, cos that's life I'm afraid.
VINE: The security manager told him to make an official report and that he could name names in confidence. In a recent Home Office investigation into corrupt officers within British gaols, not one private prison was examined, despite the fact that half the new 8000 prison places pledged by the government will be run by private companies, like GSL. So corruption in Rye Hill? What does GSL think of our man being approached?
Communications Director, GSL
Completely unacceptable, and if that officer had done what he was trained to do, that matter would have been dealt with. He failed his colleagues and he put himself at risk.
VINE: Well he's an ex-SAS man and so.. and he was trained by you. So if he's at risk in the prison, that is interesting.
BATES: There were people that were making approaches to him that he knows full well are illegal.
VINE: You seem to think the worst thing that happened in this prison is that someone went inside and showed us what was going on.
BATES: No, I think you seem to think that that's exactly what it's like all of the time. I don't think that you quite understand how difficult and complex running a prison is.
VINE: But even trying to lock a gate at Rye Hill can be difficult and complex.
OFFICER: Is it possible to have someone from facilities down to C & D metal gate please cos someone's got their keys stuck. Over.
VINE: This prison officer's key has jammed in a lock, where his keys go, he goes, so he is now the prisoner. He was trapped for 15 minutes. Let's hope our future private gaols are better equipped for the job than HMP Rye Hill.
Why do I get the feeling that Norman Stanley Fletcher would have had a field day at Rye Hill. That announcement on 8000 new prison places, half of them private, due later in the year, and GSL very much in the running.
Next week TV's Dirty Secrets. Who's to blame for the great premium rate phone in swindle and how can broadcasters win back the viewers' trust?