HM Prison Gartree
Brief history and overview of HM Prison Gartree
HM Prison Gartree is a high-security men’s prison located in the English countryside in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. With a population of around 600, it houses some of Britain’s most dangerous prisoners. First opened in 1965, Gartree has a colorful history and has held many notorious criminals within its walls over the decades. Today it operates as a Category B life sentence jail.
Location and physical attributes
Situated in a rural area outside the town of Market Harborough, Gartree prison is located about 60 miles north of London. The prison is arranged in a traditional Victorian radial design with several cell blocks branching out from a central control point. The walls are constructed from brick and concrete. There are a number of rectangular-shaped exercise yards within the grounds. The perimeter consists of lofty walls topped with razor wire.
Security classification and population
Gartree is classified as a Category B men’s prison. This means it houses prisoners for whom escape must be made very difficult but they are not considered highly dangerous. The prison can accommodate 669 inmates. As of 2020, the population stood at 640 adult males. Many are serving lengthy sentences for serious crimes.
History and Background
Opening and early years as Category C facility
HM Prison Gartree first opened its doors in 1965. Constructed on the grounds of a former Royal Air Force base, it was initially commissioned as a Category C male training prison. Category C is a lower security classification in the British penal system. Within a short period, however, Gartree had been re-classified as a maximum security jail due to an increasing number of dangerous offenders being sent there.
Infamous helicopter escape in 1987
In December 1987, Gartree Prison gained notoriety when two inmates escaped in a dramatic helicopter breakout. Gangland leader John Kendall and murderer Sydney Draper were sprung from the exercise yard by accomplices in a hijacked Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter. This Hollywood-style escape caused a major controversy and led to an urgent review of security measures at Gartree and other UK prisons.
Downgrade to Category B in 1992
In 1992, five years on from the sensational helicopter escape, Gartree underwent a downgrade from a Category A to a Category B facility. Category A denotes the highest security level in the British prison system. The re-classification to Category B reflected a changing profile of prisoners and focus at Gartree.
Increased life sentence prisoners in 1990s
During the 1990s, Gartree took on a growing number of inmates serving mandatory life sentences. By 1997, the prison’s primary role had evolved to that of a main center for life sentence prisoners in the UK. The majority of men detained there today are serving lengthy sentences for grave crimes.
Staffing and budget issues over the years
Like many British jails, Gartree has faced periodic staffing shortages and budget cuts impacting prison services. A 2003 report criticized inadequate staffing levels and resources, highlighting that there were insufficient funds to train a dedicated race relations officer, despite more than 30 proven incidents of racial discrimination between prisoners.
The Prison Today
Current status and population
Gartree continues to operate as a Category B men’s facility housing around 600 adult male inmates. Many prisoners are serving indefinite life sentences or long determinate sentences. The prison population is made up of offenders convicted of serious violent and sexual offenses.
Facilities and programs
In terms of facilities, Gartree has a number of workshops where prisoners can be employed. There are also garden areas where inmates can work. Educational services are limited. There is a small learning department offering basic education and offending behavior programs. A scheme exists to address the needs of elderly prisoners.
Employment and education
Most prisoners at Gartree have jobs in the prison workshops or gardens. These provide opportunity to learn vocational skills and occupy their time constructively. However, education services at Gartree have been described as inadequate by inspectors. There are limited formal education opportunities for inmates due to restricted staffing and budgets.
Notable Former Inmates
Ian Brady, a notorious killer, was imprisoned in Gartree. Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley carried out the shocking Moors Murders in the 1960s, torturing and killing five children in the Manchester area.
Dubbed Britain’s “most violent prisoner”, Charles Bronson has spent time at Gartree. The hardened criminal is known for multiple hostage taking incidents and attacks on inmates and guards during his decades behind bars.
Gerry Conlon was wrongly jailed for an IRA bombing as one of the Guildford Four. He was later exonerated after 15 years in prison. Conlon spent part of his unjust incarceration at Gartree and spoke out against the injustice.
Reggie Kray, the notorious East London gangster, served three decades in various prisons including Gartree for his organized crime activities with twin brother Ronnie. The Kray twins ran an underworld empire known as The Firm.
Farmer Tony Martin was jailed for the fatal shooting of a burglar at his rural home. His conviction for murder at Gartree sparked controversy about homeowners’ rights to protect their property.
Anthony Sawoniuk died in Gartree while serving a life sentence for World War II war crimes. He was convicted in 1999 for the murder of Jews in his native Belarus during the Nazi occupation.
Serial killer Fred West, who committed at least 12 murders, hanged himself at Gartree in 1995 while awaiting trial for killing women and girls in Gloucester, England.
Canadian academic and spy Hugh Hambleton served time at Gartree after being convicted in the 1980s for espionage for the Soviet Union. The NATO adviser passed classified documents to the KGB during the Cold War.
Summary of key facts
In summary, HM Prison Gartree is a high-security Category B men’s facility situated north of London. Initially a Category C jail, it later became a maximum security prison before reverting to Category B status. Gartree is now primarily a prison for adult males serving life sentences for serious offenses. It is an aging Victorian-design facility that has faced periodic staffing and budget challenges. However, it houses some of Britain’s most high-profile prisoners.
Significance as Category B life sentence prison
Gartree’s significance lies in its role as one of the main centers for male life sentence prisoners in the British prison system. Its focus shifted in the 1990s to detaining this category of high-risk, long-term inmate. Gartree also represents an insight into the changes and challenges faced by UK jails over the decades.
The future direction of HMP Gartree seems set to continue as a Category B life sentence prison. However, its aging infrastructure means redevelopment could be on the horizon. There may also be more emphasis on rehabilitative services as the prison population ages. Further staffing and budget pressures will impact the prison’s capacity to modernize its facilities and practices.
When did Gartree Prison open?
Gartree Prison first opened in 1965.
What category is Gartree Prison?
Gartree is currently classified as a Category B men’s prison.
How did prisoners escape from Gartree in 1987?
In 1987, two prisoners escaped from Gartree’s exercise yard by hijacking a helicopter that picked them up and flew them to safety.
What type of inmates are housed in Gartree?
Gartree houses adult male prisoners, many of whom are serving mandatory life sentences for serious crimes like murder, rape, and assault.
Has Gartree Prison ever been upgraded to Category A?
Yes, after opening as a Category C facility in 1965, Gartree was temporarily upgraded to maximum security Category A status in the late 1960s and 1970s before reverting to Category B.