Radical Muslim gangs are imposing a form of sharia law inside some of Britain’s prisons, a BBC investigation has found.
By Andrew Gilligan
Published: 9:00AM GMT 15 Mar 2010
Non-Muslim inmates at the high-security Long Lartin jail have been forced by the gangs to stop playing “Western” music and take down pictures of women from their cells, according to one former prison officer there. Prisoners at the jail, although allowed to cook their own food, are not allowed to prepare pork for fear of offending the Muslim inmates, the officer said.
The officer, speaking to Radio Five Live’s Donal Macintyre show, told how younger prisoners were targeted for forced conversion to Islam by the gangs. “They went along because they were intimidated. They genuinely weren’t of the Muslim faith,” she said. “I knew one lad quite well, who was approached by the radical Muslims and he changed. He was being controlled and bossed around and he wasn’t even allowed to look at me or speak to me.
“He just seemed very frightened all the time. He used to be forced to pray at certain times and he was even forced to grow a long beard even though he didn’t want to.”
One Catholic prisoner who refused to convert was seriously assaulted after being repeatedly threatened by the gang, the officer said. “He said every so often they would come to his cell and hold the Koran up through the small window in the cell door and start running their fingers along their throats,” she said.
The officer’s testimony is consistent with findings by the official prison watchdog, the chief inspector of prisons. In a report last year, the inspector, Anne Owers, quoted a number of prisoners at Long Lartin about the increasing dominance of Muslim gangs in the jail.
Long Lartin was, said one, “turning into an American-style jail, [where] if you are not in a gang, you’re in trouble. People are converting to Islam for protection.”
Another said: “There is a gang culture here, which is an issue. There are issues with Muslim gangs wanting to overpower others. A lot of people are becoming Muslim just because it is a bigger gang.”
Ms Owers says there is a similar gang culture in at least three other high-security prisons, Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, Belmarsh in south-east London and Full Sutton in North Yorkshire. Some of the gang leaders are terrorist prisoners but most are in for ordinary offences.
Two Muslim former prisoners claimed in the BBC programme that Muslims “run” some London jails and describe how they watched al-Qaeda videos in their cells, brought in by corrupt prison officers. They also detail further bullying and abuse of prisoners who refused to convert to Islam and said that in one London jail, prisoners who wanted to play music had their stereos smashed. They said that the official prison imams appointed by the Home Office were largely ineffective and not respected by Muslim prisoners.
Malcolm Moss, national chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “We are seeing more and more Muslim gangs in our prisons. Often Muslims who go to prison are forced into gangs for their own protection. And that culture takes over a wing, takes over an area of the prison. We see it as a real danger, now and for the future of prisons.”
Mr Moss called for more Muslim prison officers to be recruited as part of an urgent effort to “face up” to the gangs.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “It is ridiculous to suggest that any gang ‘controls’ a prison. The Prison Service has a wealth of experience in dealing with gang activity and managing prisoners who form gangs. Expert staff identify, challenge and disrupt those prisoners attempting to bully, influence or intimidate others. We have long established strategies to address gang behaviour, and to counter bullying, combat illicit mobile phones and tackle drugs.”
The spokesman said there was “no evidence” that al-Qaeda videos had been watched and insisted that bacon was not banned.