I spent a decade locking up lags in UK’s toughest jail… here are FIVE chilling facts about prison system | The Sun

A FORMER prison officer who spent over a decade at one of the country's toughest jails has told of life surrounded by murderers, rapists, killers and paedophiles.

Neil Samworth, now 60, spent 11 years at Manchester's sprawling Strangeways prison, working with hardened criminals, drug dealers and serial rapists.

Neil revealed how prison officers risk being targeted at home by the IRA and mafia if they fall out with inmates connected to international crime groups.

He told how prisoners play the system to run gangs from the inside and how the UK now needs a US style Supermax prison due to fears a terrorist could kill an officer.


The burly Yorkshire man remembers Dale Cregan, now serving a whole life sentence for murdering PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, for his 'aloof' manner on the wing.

He said: "Dale did not want to speak to prison officers. He only wanted to deal with a governor."

Neil said that although Cregan was linked to criminals on the outside who used firearms, there were more dangerous men inside the prison.

He said: "Yes we knew that he had associations on the outside.

"But there were more dangerous people inside Strangeways than him."

Neil , who was forced to face down and physically restrain violent prisoners, said that he often met former lags when he was out shopping.

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He said: "I have bumped into so many ex-cons in the supermarket. They all have time for me, stopping to shake my hand.

“Some have introduced me to their family, and even apologised for their behaviour in the past.”

I have bumped into so many ex-cons in the supermarket

Neil said that he tried to have a decent relationship with most prisoners, enjoying chats and banter with crooks and gangsters on the wings.

Neil said that although much of his time in Victorian prison from 2005 to 2016 was mundane, violence could explode at any point.


Neil described Stangweways as a highly unusual work environment where boredom and tedium were broken by moments of violence and terror.

He said that HMP Manchester's high security Cat A wing was a place teeming with swaggering egos, with a high concentration of hardened criminals and gangsters.

They knew they were being listened to and wanted to be in Cat A. So they pretended to plan an escape on the phone

Neil told The Sun how two members of a notorious Manchester crime family used the prison phone system to make sure they were placed on the Cat A wing.

He said: "They knew they were being listened to and wanted to be in Cat A. So they pretended to plan an escape on the phone."

Neil said that many portrayals of the prison system in films and television were inaccurate.

He said that the issue of male rape was 'very rare' and that the urban myths that surrounded prison showers were simply not true.

Neil explained:"Male rape does happen but it's very rare."

He praised BBC prison drama Time starring Sean Bean and Stephen Graham as an 'authentic ' look at life behind bars.


Neil said that the drama was able to convey the way sophisticated criminals were able to exert influence and pressure across the wing, on both other inmates and officers.

He said: "Time really captured the atmosphere on the wing."
He said that this type of criminal, known in the system as a 'head', normally ran the wing they were on.

The former officer said that in his view many prisoners were put on a path to crime by their backgrounds, which were often blighted by childhood trauma and drug use.

If you upset someone who is linked to the IRA or mafia they will find out where you live. It does happen.

He said: "I remember one lad who told me that his dad used to be a bank robber.

"He would come home and there would be a shotgun on the kitchen table.

"The drawers would be stuffed with £20 and £50 pound notes."

Neil's latest book on life at HMP Manchester, titled 'Strangeways Unlocked' takes an unflinching look at life on the inside.

The book tells the story of how a member of a Liverpool crime family attacked two officers at the prison, leaving both men with serious facial injuries.


Neil said that prison officers across the country worked under the continual threat of violence.

He said that he was shocked by the attack at London's Belmarsh prison when three terrorists stormed an office and battered a prison officer.

Hashem Abedi, Ahmed Hassan and Muhammed Saeed were later prosecuted in relation to the 'frenzied' attack.

Abedi helped organise the Manchester Arena bombing with his brother Salman in 2017, which claimed the lives of 22 people.

Neil said that in his view officers were not trained to deal with fully radicalised prisoners like Hashem Abedi.

I believe we need a Supermax style prison for the country's most dangerous offenders

He added: "Young prison officers coming into the job need to be fully trained and prepared for what is ahead of them. It's no joke."

Neil, from Sheffield, said that in rare instances prisoners linked to terrorist and mafia type organisations could target an officer.

He said: "If you upset someone who is linked to the IRA or mafia they will find out where you live. It does happen."

Neil said that the UK now needed a US style Supermax prison for the country's most dangerous offenders.

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He said: "My concern is that terrorists are going to murder a prison officer in a British jail.

"I believe we need a Supermax style prison for the country's most dangerous offenders."

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