This weekend, armed assailants tortured a prisoner and held him hostage in HMP Wakefield for six hours, before specialist prison staff stormed the cell. The prisoner was taken to hospital with stab wounds. Much has been made of the fact that he is Ian Watkins, the front man of the group Lostprophets, who was imprisoned for 29 years in 2008 for the sexual abuse of children. As you can imagine, there isn’t a lot of sympathy for one of the most grotesque and sadistic paedophiles in our prison system. But this misses an important and troubling point.
Wakefield prison is one of a small number of high security prisons. It was recently classified as ‘outstanding’ in HM Prison and Probation Service annual performance ratings. It was also well regarded by the independent prisons inspectorate. So if a hostage incident can take place here with such a high profile prisoner, it’s fair to say that it could take place anywhere. And with other targets.
From the little we are allowed to know about the incident, it appears that the Watkins attack was carefully planned. It was launched at the weekend when prisons have fewer staff on duty and they are typically more relaxed.
When someone is targeted this way and isolated in a cell, there are usually contingency plans in place designed to clear the area and begin negotiations. It’s clear from reports that when these negotiations failed, and it was judged Watkin’s life was seriously at risk, the prisons team used stun grenades to end the siege.
While we don’t yet know the identity of the assailants, Wakefield holds some of the most dangerous people in the country. Around 60 per cent of its inmates are high harm sex offenders and 150 of its 700 odd offenders have ‘Category A’ status – reserved for offenders who would pose a serious threat to the public or national security if released.