Special new unit for Britain's three most dangerous prisoners

Ian Burrell
Wednesday 25 August 1999 00:02 BST

A SPECIAL UNIT is to be set up for the three most dangerous prisoners in the country to keep them away from other inmates and members of staff.

The two murderers and a notorious hostage-taker have been judged too risky even to be kept in the close supervision centre at Woodhill prison in Buckinghamshire.

The prisoners - understood to be Charles Bronson, who has been responsible for 10 hostage-taking incidents, the serial killer Robert Maudsley, and Reginald Wilson a murderer - have shown no response to the harsh regime at the Woodhill unit, which has been dubbed Britain's Alcatraz.

Brodie Clark, the new director of high security prisons at the Prison Service, has decided the three continue to pose an extreme risk and must be moved for the sake of staff and other inmates.

Mr Clark wrote in the Prison Officers' Association magazine GateLodge: "One of my concerns now is that there is a very small handful of prisoners in the system at the moment who one would feel present a risk if ever they came into contact with other inmates or staff for any period at all."

He said: "There are names that most people will have heard around and we need to find some proper kind of accommodation for them for long periods of time, because it is unlikely that they'd be going back to mix in any kind of normal accommodation in the foreseeable future."

The Prison Service said last night that the step did not mean efforts would no longer be made to try to rehabilitate the prisoners. A spokesman added: "We are not saying the key should be thrown away.

"It's just a realistic assessment of risk to say they are unlikely to be able to make their way through the [Woodhill] system and we might need to find some alternative accommodation for them. We are not sure yet what form that will take." The Woodhill unit opened 18 months ago to hold the most dangerous and disruptive prisoners in the jail system.

Security is of the highest order, with prisoners monitored on closed circuit television, doors opening only with visual and personal identification codes. The cells are austere, with furniture made from compressed cardboard which cannot burn and beds which are a concrete plinth. Prisoners are encouraged to progress through the unit by earning privileges through good behaviour.

Inmates on the lowest rung of the ladder have been denied even basic personal possessions such as books and radios, drawing criticisms from the Prison Reform Trust and legal challenges by prisoners.

Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, warned against making the new unit any tougher. He said: "The clear lesson of the last 20 years is that creating increasingly strict regimes for such prisoners does not decrease the danger they represent to others. On the contrary, it clearly increases it." The Prison Service said the new special unit for the three dangerous inmates - which may be sited in the grounds of Woodhill - was likely to involve a less severe regime.

The Men Too Violent For `Britain's Alcatraz'

Britain's worst criminals are too difficult for Woodhill prison, despite it being nick-named `Britain's Alcatraz'


An 18-stone body-builder who changed his name from Michael Peterson to that of the star of the film `Death Wish'. Bronson, 45, has spent 25 years in prison, much of it in isolation units.

Bronson, now serving a sentence for taking three fellow prisoners hostage, boasted: "I've had more hostages than Saddam Hussein." He was jailed for seven years in 1997 for taking hostage the three prisoners at top- security Belmarsh Prison, south London. During the incident in September 1996 Bronson, who was serving a 15-year sentence for possession of a firearm and hostage taking, tied up the prisoners and barricaded them in a cell with him for seven hours. He threatened to eat one of them and demanded a helicopter to Cuba, a cheese sandwich and ice cream. The siege ended after he slashed himself with a razor.

Bronson had been known to bend cell doors with his bare hands and has been described as "probably the most disruptive inmate in the country".


Known within the prison system as "Hannibal the Cannibal" after the psychopath in the film Silence of the Lambs. Jailed in 1974 for stabbing and garrotting an uncle, in the 25 years he has murdered three fellow inmates. He cut open the head of one victim with a serrated knife and was said to have bragged that he loved the sight of blood.

He was sent to Broadmoor, where he captured fellow prisoner David Francis in 1977 and tortured him for nine hours. After he murdered Francis he held his body aloft to prison staff who had been bargaining for the hostage's life.

Maudsley was moved to Wakefield high-security prison, where he stabbed two more prisoners to death with a home-made knife in 1979. Prison chiefs ordered him to be locked in a zoo-like cage with cardboard furniture and a concrete bed. He was later moved to a specially constructed pounds 50,000 cell in Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight. Michael Howard, when he was Home Secretary, ordered that Maudsley, 46, should never be released.


A psychopath who clubbed to death a respected skin specialist in his own home then boasted to police that he had committed the perfect crime.

After murdering Dr David Birkett in Middlesbrough in February 1990, Wilson sent police a self-congratulatory letter about the killing and a verse of poetry taken from the book The Miko by Eric Van Lustbaden.

The poetry was broadcast on Crimewatch UK and led to Wilson's arrest. The killer had a hit-list of other potential victims. At his trial in July 1991, Mr Justice Potts told him: "Life, in short, in your case should mean life."

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Leonard, who led the five-month hunt for Wilson, said: "He just selected a victim and then set about an elaborate plan to kill him."

Wilson, 34, has been a disruptive inmate, trying to escape from Frankland prison, Co Durham, after cutting through the bars of his cell. He gave himself up after realising a ladder made from old furniture was too heavy.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in