Former Wandsworth Prison Staff Say it is Run by Inmates

Claim understaffing has resulted in reduced security and increased violence

Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison. Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

September 12, 2023

Former officers at HMP Wandsworth have claimed inmates are effectively able to run prison life because of understaffing, while security levels have dropped to a concerning level and violence is a daily occurrence. Daniel Khalife, 21, fled from Category B men’s prison HMP Wandsworth strapped to the underside of a delivery lorry on Wednesday morning (6 September) before being recaptured this Saturday.

Khalife, a former British Army soldier, was on remand at the jail awaiting trial for terrorism and Official Secrets Act offences. His escape has sparked a nationwide manhunt, with the Met Police offering a £20,000 reward for information that led to his capture.

Two people who claim to be former officers at the prison, and still live in the local area, said its standards had declined and they were not surprised to learn of Khalife’s escape. They raised concerns to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) about conditions for both staff and inmates.

A 63-year-old man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he worked as an officer at the prison for 30 years from 1988 to 2018, and that standards had “gone right down the pan”. He told the LDRS: “I would say that in the years I was there that the security levels have definitely dropped to a concerning level.”

He described Khalife being housed in the prison as “astonishing” and claimed that, when he retired in 2018, he felt it was “housing more and more terrorists”. He said: “It became known that in the general population there were more people there for terrorism offences and you might have day-to-day dealings with them… and it concerned me because I thought to myself there are places these guys should be housed and that’s [higher security] Cat A places – Belmarsh [Prison] is the obvious one.

“So that’s the question that I would be asking just now. Why were guys like him even there? But what I would say is that that individual has only taken advantage of a situation that any other prisoner could have done.”

He claimed jobs previously carried out by qualified prison officers were being done by those with less experience. He said he felt Khalife’s escape was due to “complete and utter human error” and that he expected there would be a “reshuffle” of management along with prisoners.

The Wandsworth resident said he sometimes speaks to officers who have told him: “You’re so lucky you got out, it is sh*t in here, it is sh*t, the prisoners are running it.” He claimed officers had told him “inappropriate relationships” between prisoners and staff had been “brushed under the carpet”.

He said, “I see young guys and girls going in there now and these guys either intimidate them or, with the young female staff, they charm them. What has gone through the roof in there is trafficking. When I started in there, I can confidently say that there was not a lot of trafficking, drugs, anything, and now staff are either being bullied or manipulated into trafficking.”

He claimed there were also “criminal gangs now recruiting people to join” as staff. He said, “The minute you’re on the inside there’s big bucks to be made in there… in drugs, mobile phones, all the rest of that stuff.”

He added, “You get your man in there, you’re quids up because he can just take it in every day for them. You don’t have to throw it over the wall or get a drone, and if he gets caught that’s part of the deal.”

The former officer also claimed violence at the prison had risen to the point of being a daily occurrence. “Every day there’ll be a trail of blood to that triage nurse, there’s violence in there every single day,” he said.

He said he felt inmates were not rehabilitated at the prison, either. “I worked in there… for 30 long years, and I achieved nothing,” he said. He added, “If I was a prisoner, I’d want to escape because I tell you the truth, it is sh*t in there, excuse my French, it’s horrible.”

But he said he was not concerned about living near to the prison and described the neighbourhood as “a completely quiet, safe environment”. He said, “It certainly doesn’t give me any anxieties, there’s no suggestion that we’re going to have people climbing over the wall every couple of weeks.”

A report from Wandsworth’s Independent Monitoring Board published in September 2022 found that there was a “staffing crisis”, “wholly inadequate physical conditions” and “incidents of violence at alarming levels”.

Another 63-year-old man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he worked as an officer at the prison in 1987. He said he was not surprised about Khalife’s escape and that there had been a decline in standards over the last 30 years. “It’s a scandal,” he said.

He claimed there are now more “inexperienced staff” at the prison, while the older experienced staff are “burnt out”. He said: “The prison is under resourced, that’s simple, the staff are overworked, they’re stressed, underpaid.”

He told the LDRS, “There was a line before, [between] officer [and] inmate. Those lines ended up being blurred.” When he was working at the prison, he claimed, “There was camaraderie because you had more staff, there was discipline, there were standards”. But those standards, he continued, “have been watered down”.

The former officer said he was “not worried” about living close to the prison, however. He told the LDRS, “Anybody who gets out, they’re not going to hang around here. He’ll be gone, as far as possible, there’s too many cameras.”

Khalife denied all charges against him at the Old Bailey in July and was due to appear in court for a six-week trial starting on 13 November. In a statement after his escape, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) Steve Gillan, said, “Wandsworth is a typical example of what life is like for serving prison officers operating in a stressful and violent workplace with inadequate staff levels caring for over 1,600 prisoners at that establishment.”

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has reportedly asked for a preliminary report on the circumstances surrounding the escape by the end of this week, and has promised there will be an independent inquiry.

The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.


Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter