hm prison belmarsh

HM Prison Belmarsh

HMP Belmarsh is a high-profile men’s prison located in Thamesmead, Southeast London. With a notorious reputation for housing some of the UK’s most dangerous inmates, Belmarsh has been controversial yet integral to the British penal system for over 30 years.

History and Location

Belmarsh Prison first opened in April 1991, built on part of the former Royal Arsenal site in Woolwich. It was constructed to be a high-security facility in proximity to London’s criminal courts. The prison is situated next to Woolwich Crown Court and conveniently near the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey.

Security Classification and Population

Belmarsh houses Category A adult male prisoners and young offenders. It has a maximum capacity of 792 inmates. The typical population hovers around 650-700 prisoners. They are a mix of remand and sentenced prisoners from London and Essex courts.

Facilities and Services

The prison provides educational workshops, two gyms, and a listener scheme for at-risk inmates. There is a mix of single-occupancy and multi-occupancy cells. The High Security Unit (HSU) consists of 48 solitary confinement cells and is known as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay.”

Detention of Terror Suspects

In the early 2000s, Belmarsh became notorious for detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, which was controversial yet legal at the time. After being ruled discriminatory and unlawful in 2004, this practice mostly ended.

See also  HM Prison Kennet

Excessive Use of Force

Belmarsh has attracted criticisms of an institutional culture of excessive force used against prisoners. Reports in 2009 and subsequent years revealed concerning rates of control and restraint tactics used by staff.

Comparisons to Guantanamo Bay

Nicknamed “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay,” Belmarsh has been compared to the controversial American military prison due to holding terror suspects without trial and allegations of prisoner mistreatment.

Current High-Profile Prisoners

Today, Belmarsh houses several notorious inmates including Julian Assange, police officer-turned-serial rapist David Carrick, Lee Rigby’s murderer Michael Adebolajo, and MP David Amess’ killer Ali Harbi Ali.

Infamous Former Prisoners

Past inmates include extremist preachers Abu Hamza and Anjem Choudary, police officer Wayne Couzens, serial killer Levi Bellfield, and even politician Jonathan Aitken.

Role in the Justice System

For three decades, Belmarsh has played an integral yet controversial role in the British penal system. It houses high-security prisoners close to London courts during legal proceedings.

Future of the Prison

Despite ongoing criticisms, HMP Belmarsh will likely continue serving as one of England’s few high-security prisons for the foreseeable future. However, there are calls for reforms.


HMP Belmarsh is a critical component of the justice system, housing high-risk prisoners like few other facilities can. However, its reputation for indefinite detention and excessive force continue to garner scrutiny. The prison’s priority should be humane treatment and rehabilitation of inmates. Belmarsh stands at a crossroads, where the path it takes next will define its future.


Where is HMP Belmarsh located?

HMP Belmarsh is located in Thamesmead, Southeast London, near Woolwich Crown Court.

See also  HM Prison Bedford

What type of prisoners are housed at Belmarsh?

Belmarsh houses Category A adult male prisoners, including inmates charged with terrorism, violent crimes, and other high-security cases.

Why has Belmarsh been controversial?

It has been controversial for detaining terrorism suspects without charge, allegations of excessive force against prisoners, and comparisons to Guantanamo Bay.

Who are some notable prisoners held there?

Current inmates include Julian Assange, Michael Adebolajo, and David Carrick. Former prisoners include Abu Hamza, Anjem Choudary, and Jonathan Aitken.

What is Belmarsh’s role in the UK justice system?

It houses high-security prisoners close to London courts, playing an integral yet controversial role in the penal system for 30+ years.

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