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MP: ‘Shocking’ prison must be shut down

Murder trial reveals life in Pentonville: drugs, weapons and violence

08 December, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Inmate Jamal Mahmoud died after fight broke out

FRESH calls for the government to tackle “shocking” conditions at Pentonville Prison were made his week after three men were acquitted of killing another inmate following a trial which exposed the chaos of life inside.

The three-month trial into the death of Jamal Mahmoud, 21, revealed the disturbing day-to-day reality of life in the prison, with drugs, weapons and serious violence commonplace.

Its conclusion came as a coroner in a separate case investigated how a prisoner apparently took his own life.

Islington South and Finsbury Labour MP Emily Thornberry said last night (Thursday) that the prison should be shut down.

“Conditions inside the prison are truly shocking,” she told the Tribune. “No matter how committed the staff are – and I do not doubt their commitment for one minute – it is miserable for staff and prisoners. The government needs to stop kicking the can down the road and either seriously invest in Pentonville or close it down. The best thing would be to close it down and create smaller prisons in London.”

At the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Basana Kimbembi, 35, Robert Butler, 31, and Joshua Ratner, 27, were found not guilty of murder and manslaughter by a jury after a week-and-a-half of deliberations.

The trial had heard how a fight broke out between Mr Mahmoud, who was in a gang of mostly Somali men, and the others over who was in charge of the drug supply into the prison. But Mr Kimbembi and Mr Butler both denied delivering the fatal wound to Mr Mahmoud and said their co-accused, Mr Ratner, was not involved.

The area of G Wing where the incident took place was not covered by CCTV. During the trial jurors were told a shortage of staff meant the prison was not put on lockdown after the death and no searches were immediately carried out.

They were also told it was common for inmates to have weapons, with drugs and mobile phones also easy to get inside, delivered by drones flown through windows.

Pentonville Prison

The response by prison chiefs to the fatal stabbing was described as a “disaster” by one senior prison officer who gave evidence during the trial.

Since January 2016, there have been nine deaths of prisoners, mostly suicides.

This week, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that “in the 21st century it is an indictment of successive governments that we still have a prison like Pentonville at all”.

He added: “Every week an endless procession of the weak, disadvantaged and unwell pass through the same gates as the seriously dangerous. Inside, staff struggle to build the relationships that will protect the vulnerable and identify those who pose the most risk. Every day, the governor’s ability to deliver a safe and decent way of life is compromised by the mismatch between the prison’s physical and human resources and the job it is being asked to perform.

“The operational problems are plain for all to see, but they require a political solution.”

Police are not looking for any other suspects in relation to Mr Mahmoud’s death.

Mr Kimbembi was found guilty of unlawfully and maliciously wounding Mohammed Ali, a friend of Mr Mahmoud, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Judge Richard Marks QC adjourned his sentencing until Monday.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “This was an appalling crime, and our thoughts remain with the friends and family of Jamal Mahmoud.

“HMP Pentonville has already introduced measures to improve safety, including new body-worn cameras for all uniformed staff, and new CCTV to tackle contraband in prisons.

“We are also boosting the frontline by recruiting more staff at HMP Pentonville and for prisons across the estate – and are already halfway to reaching our target of 2,500 additional officers.”


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