Dehumanising system leads to murder inside Woodhill

HMP Woodhill

On 6 June the press reported on an alleged murder in Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes; few details were given at that point, beyond the fact that one prisoner had been killed by three others. The victim was named nine days later but no further details have been published and there has been little information provided to the public regarding the specific location – a special unit operating as a ‘prison within a prison’ inside HMP Woodhill. KEVAN THAKRAR, who has spent many years incarcerated in Woodhill, has sent us this report into the events and the background to them.

This may well be the most gruesome killing to have ever occurred inside any prison in this country. It is strange then that the news coverage has been so minimal, especially considering that on average only six murders a year take place within prisons in England and Wales and very few of those are within the eight high security prisons. But then the location where it took place is so effectively a prison within a prison, and one which is terrified of any negative publicity due to the massive amounts of government funding wasted on them.

Close Supervision and Managing Challenging Behaviour

The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system operates within a secretive environment hidden not only from the outside world but even from the rest of the prison system itself. Existing in its own brutal world, the majority of prisoners will never have heard of it. I was not even aware of what it was until after spending a few months detained in it. As only around 50 prisoners are held in the CSC at once, and historically numbers have been less than this, stories of what goes on often don’t leave the confines of the concrete walls unless the officers want them to. Permanent segregation under Prison Rule 46, which is coupled with intense psychological torture to break and then change the victims, is what the CSC is all about. Small units holding a maximum of 10 prisoners on Rule 46 can be found in HMPs Woodhill, Whitemoor, Full Sutton and Wakefield, as well as two cells kept in all high security prison ordinary segregation units specifically for CSC prisoners.

For almost ten years another separate but connected system has functioned beneath the CSC known as the Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS). Officially, MCBS is supposed to be used prior to prisoners being escalated to the CSC and it also works in the rare occasions that those on the CSC are allowed to progress down the security ladder. However a dedicated unit was created at the end of 2011 to hold those on MCBS who were deemed to require central management by Prison Service HQ, since which time numbers have increased to around 25 fitting the criteria for this. The unit has a capacity of 10 so allocation to it, just like the rest of the processes, is totally arbitrary. It is located at HMP Woodhill, unsurprisingly on a unit that was formerly used as a CSC, so has all the oppressive and intrusive security and facilities of its harsher big brother. The consequence is that the same mental breakdowns routinely seen to occur in CSC residents can be found in those on MCBS, as well as the increased levels of frustration, desperation and agitation found in all those contained within solitary or small group confinement.

Murderous ideas breed inside an oppressive system

Four prisoners were allowed to be locked together without any prison officers within an exercise cage similar to something seen at a zoo where animals are held outside of their natural habitats. Three of them had recently voiced murderous ideas to prison staff with the object of their hatred being the oblivious fourth man. Whilst prison officers watched through the cage and on CCTV cameras, the victim was knocked down, savagely beaten, and then decapitated. Even after this it took some time before steps were taken to secure the remains and vacate the culprits from the cage, but management was too embarrassed to not react, so quickly dispersed the three of them to segregation units in other high security prisons for an unspecified duration on punishment regimes, once they were out of the kill zone.

Suppressing the truth is not difficult from such a closed environment so all that has been heard in the weeks since is that three men murdered another at HMP Woodhill. The specific location and details remain secret until now, but treating human beings as animals, whilst stupidly expecting rehabilitation, continues so the chances of the CSC/MCBS causing another lethal result are unchanged.

With the highest staffing levels of any establishment, almost one officer for every prisoner on duty throughout the day, the Prisoners Officers Association cannot on this occasion blame shortages or cutbacks. Indeed, this ratio has done nothing to help those on these units but has instead added to the oppression that has once again caused the residents to snap. The lack of a therapeutic culture and over reliance on ‘clamping down’, adding more and more restrictions and security measures following each incident has got the place stuck in an ever increasing negative cycle where the frequency of what should be unimaginable events has begun to feel routine.

One of the culprits was not long ago ‘progressed’ from the CSC to MCBS so is fully aware of what now awaits him. However, the damage done to him by the environment and regime in both systems removed all chance to see the possibility of a better life; hopelessness prevailed and the consequences became irrelevant with the thought of having nothing left to lose being shared by all three of the perpetrators. Throwing away the key comes with massive costs, as does the removal of the means to live with some form of dignity and decency. Inhumane degrading treatment – just another day at the CSC/MCBS.

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE

HMP Long Lartin (segregation unit)

South Littleton


Worcs WR11 5TZ


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