00:17, 13 March 2013
00:41, 13 March 2013
Lord Brocket, who spent two and a half years in prison, says Huhne will face threats and taunts from other prisoners because of his status
One journey Chris Huhne will never forget is the trip in the ‘sweat box’ that on Monday took him from Southwark Crown Court to HM Prison Wandsworth, a few miles along the Thames in South London.
Before I was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in January 1996 for planning an insurance fraud, I imagined that these white ‘prison limos’, as we inmates called them, were laid out like buses, with several men to each row of seats. In fact, they are divided into tiny individual cubicles, each with the hardest plastic chair imaginable.
I am 6ft 2in, but anyone would find them cramped, and the misery of sitting there in handcuffs — with your knees jammed against the bulkhead — is compounded when the van begins to roll out of the basement of the crown court.
That’s when all hell breaks loose and the other prisoners start kicking the doors and yelling every obscenity imaginable.
But Huhne should have savoured the anonymity of that miniature cell, because being rich or famous at Wandsworth, Britain’s toughest jail, is tantamount to walking around with a target painted on your back.
I was sent there a short time into my sentence. Not long before I left his prison, the deputy governor at Bedford warned me that the authorities were taunting me by sending me to as many prisons as they could, and this was part of my tour of seven.
They wanted to make it difficult for my family to visit me, and my four weeks in ‘Wanno’ would be a punishment all of their own.
A Category B prison, only one step down from a maximum security Category A, it is known as a ‘screws’ jail’ — one where the day-to-day running is controlled by the prison warders rather than the management.
Of the seven jails I was sent to during the two- and-a-half years that I served, I found that the warders at Wandsworth were easily the most hostile and aggressive.
On arrival at this forbidding fortress, I was unloaded from the van with other prisoners and told to sit in a side room until it was my turn to be called forward.
As I already knew, this could take minutes or hours. You quickly learn why they call being in prison ‘doing time’
Fall from grace: Huhne arrives at Southwark Crown Court for sentencing. He will spend the early part of his sentence at Wandsworth
Finally, I was ordered up to a counter some 15 ft long, where they went through the few possessions that I was able to take in with me.
They didn’t amount to much beyond a few clothes and a portable radio, but this was a chance for the warders at Wandsworth to show what they thought of someone from a privileged background such as mine.
My suit, which I had brought so I would have something decent to wear on my eventual release, was thrown on the ground, waiting to be picked up by an inmate who would stuff it into a clear plastic bag, along with the rest of my few possessions.
‘Who the f*** do you think you are?’ the warders jeered at me. ‘We’ll see that you get sorted out in here, don’t you worry about that.’
Disgraced peer Lord Brocket at Ford Open Prison (left). He says he was stabbed and slashed across the face at Littlehey Prison in Cambridgeshire. (Right) leaving Springhill Prison at Grendon Underwood near Aylesbury
Any money I had was taken to the governor’s office for safekeeping, to be doled out as part of an allowance of £10 a week.
Then I was ordered into a side room and told to strip naked for an intimate body search with a rubber glove.
As I discovered, the roughness with which this search was administered was stepped up if the warders took a dislike to you.
Their contempt was also expressed when it came to doling out my prison uniform — blue jeans and traditional blue-and-white striped shirts.
the two- and-a-half years that I served, I found that the warders at
Wandsworth were easily the most hostile and aggressive…
‘”Who the f*** do you think you are?” the
warders jeered at me. ‘”We’ll see that you get sorted out in here, don’t
you worry about that”.’
I was deliberately handed clothes that were many sizes too small by a laughing prison officer.
‘That will f***ing show him,’ he said, as he rejoined his fellow warders.
Luckily, an inmate in reception took pity on me and found me clothes of the right size before we were taken through into the prison itself — there to learn the hard way a rule peculiar to Wandsworth.
Six of the wings lead to a huge central hexagon with a grille in the floor that prisoners are forbidden to walk over. No one told me that, of course, because the officers delighted in giving a good kicking to anyone who inadvertently strayed on to it.
They were good at doling out punishments at Wandsworth. During my time there I saw two warders kicking a prisoner down a metal staircase. He was left with his head cut open and bleeding.
Other inmates were dispatched to clean up his blood and take him to the prison hospital, where the staff were probably told that he had fallen accidentally.
Luckily, they decided against going for me. By the time I got to Wandsworth, I knew the ropes and never let on I was scared. I was also strong and fit, and my background as an Army lieutenant may have made them a little wary.
But Huhne should never assume that because his is such a well-known case, the governor will somehow protect him from harm.
Hard: Wandsworth is category B prison, one step down from a maximum security Category A. Life inside is notoriously hard
The reality is that the governor simply cannot be on hand at all times. The technology for that isn’t there, as I found out at Littlehey prison in Cambridgeshire when I tried to protect a young inmate whose radio was being stolen.
For my troubles, I was knifed and slashed across the hands and face with a razor. As he will find out, it’s the other prisoners at Wandsworth who will pose the main threat to Chris Huhne.
The first time he will come properly face to face with one of them is when he is taken to his cramped cell, measuring 10 ft by 6 ft. When the door slams shut behind him, he will find himself locked up 23 hours a day with a cellmate who might have committed any crime at all.
I shared a cell at Wandsworth with a man who had attempted to stab someone to death.
But it’s not just your cellmate you have to worry about. You are easy prey for gangs who post a guard outside a new arrival’s cell while two or three of them go inside to ‘welcome’ them with demands that they use one of their precious weekly phone calls to transfer money to a specified bank account.
Resistance is met with threats that their families will be harmed by contacts on the outside.
Lord Brocket, wearing his Harley Davidson motorcycle leathers, leaving Springhill Prison after serving two and a half years of his sentence. It was the last of seven prisons he was sent to
Again, I was lucky. The worst threat I received was when another prisoner stole my diary and threatened to sell it to the Press unless I gave him £2,000.
My refusal to accommodate him led to a massive fight and some stabbings — but eventually I got my diary back.
As a high-profile figure, Huhne will be particularly susceptible to such threats.
He will never be more aware of his ‘celebrity’ than when he walks to the wing canteen for one of the three snatched meals a day that prisoners are allowed.
Some of the 200 faces that stare at him will simply be curious, but others will be eyeing him up to see what they can possibly get from him — be it money or the favours they think he can do them on the outside.
Lord Brocket and his collection of Ferraris and Maseratis. He was jailed after admitting his part in a £4.5million scam involving the defrauding of insurance on his collection of classic cars
There will be plenty of time for him to reflect on his fears as he lies in his cell at night, turning his face to the glossy green wall as his cellmate uses the shared toilet, or unable to sleep while others vent their frustrations by ranting long into the night.
Compared with most prisoners, Huhne has some advantages. He will probably be eligible for transfer to the vulnerable prisoners’ wing if the authorities think he is likely to have a particularly hard time. And his stay at Wandsworth will probably be short — after a few weeks of ‘assessment’ there he is likely to be transferred to an open prison.
For someone like him, used to unfettered freedom and to giving orders rather than taking them, even life in a Category C jail will be hard enough to bear.
Compared with life at Wandsworth, however, it will seem like the proverbial holiday camp.
Wandsworth jail is hell for the famous, Chris – as I found out: Lord Brocket tells of … – Daily Mail
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