HMP Pentonville – Poor safety and weaknesses across all areas but management starting to get a grip on problems

HMP Pentonville, one of the country’s oldest and busiest prisons, was found by inspectors to be failing to meet the “undoubtedly great challenges” it faces, with safety assessed as particularly poor.

However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, stopped short of invoking the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) protocol, which is designed to bring prisons with significant failings directly and publicly to the attention of the Secretary of State.

Mr Clarke considered, but rejected, a UN at Pentonville at the inspection in April 2019 because, he said, the relatively new governor and his senior team, with active support from the (Prison) Group Director, appeared finally to be getting to grips with longstanding problems.

“We found no denial of the gravity of the prison’s situation, and there was a clear recognition of the scale of the work to be done.”

The problems were clear and serious. Built in 1842, and largely unchanged structurally since, Pentonville holds up to 1,310 adult men. It epitomises the challenges confronting ageing, inner-city prisons with transient populations, many with heightened levels of need and risk.

Mr Clarke said that “the general failure to meet the undoubtedly great challenges faced by this prison and those held in it is reflected in our healthy prison assessments.” Safety was poor, and respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning were all not sufficiently good.

Violence had increased markedly, by more than 50% since 2017, driven by gang affiliations, drugs, debt and a high proportion of relatively more volatile younger prisoners who were given no targeted support. A third of prisoners said they felt unsafe.

Use of force by staff had increased significantly, yet oversight and accountability were lacking. There was good attention to gang issues and staff corruption but drugs remained hugely problematic, with a random drug test positive rate of around 29%. There were weaknesses in the physical security of the prison and ineffective use of technology to detect illicit items coming in.

There had been four self-inflicted deaths since 2017. Recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following investigations had been implemented well in relation to health care but less so by the rest of the prison. Case management support (ACCT) for those in crisis was poor. Living conditions for many prisoners were still poor, with many cells overcrowded or badly equipped.

Only 57% of the prisoners surveyed said staff treated them with respect, much lower than at comparable prisons. Inspectors received several reports suggesting a poor attitude among some staff, and there was evidence of some deep-rooted cultural problems that obstructed positive work with prisoners. Many staff were inexperienced, though they were being given reasonable mentoring and leadership.

Daily routines were more reliable but nearly a third of prisoners were locked in cell during the working day. Inspectors were concerned that 95% of prisoners under the age of 22 said they usually spent less than two hours per day out of their cells during the week. There were enough part-time activity and education places for all prisoners, but despite some recent improvement attendance remained poor. The overall strategic approach to rehabilitation work remained weak.

Mr Clarke said that inspectors in 2017 had raised similar concerns to those in 2019 but noted, then, early signs of improvement. This, though, was “evidently a false dawn.”

He gave “very serious consideration” to invoking an Urgent Notification but, he added, “managers and many staff at all levels throughout the prison told us they were committed to the changes that were underway and expressed confidence in the leadership of the establishment.” HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) had ensured a recent influx of new staff.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“We left the prison with no illusions about the scale of the task ahead and with ongoing concerns about decency and safety for prisoners. The depressing cycle of promise and further decline cannot be allowed to continue. Managers appeared to be working together to bring about the changes that were needed. Indeed, many told us that within 12 months the prison would be vastly improved. We will test the reality of this claim through an independent review of progress (IRP), which will be followed in due course by a full unannounced inspection.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General for Prisons, said:

“We are under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge at HMP Pentonville, but I share the inspectors’ confidence in this management team and fully expect to see real improvements. A new drugs strategy has been introduced at the prison to combine more cell searches with better addiction treatment, while a scanner to intercept illicit items in mail has been deployed. We are investing an extra £100m to boost security and safety across the estate to stop drugs, weapons and mobile phones getting in so we can protect staff, cut violence, and rehabilitate offenders.”

 Notable features from this inspection

  • Nearly 900 new receptions over the previous six months
  • 23% of prisoners are on remand
  • Nearly 10% of prisoners are under 21
  • 21% of prisoners are foreign nationals
  • 57% of prisoners are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
  • 600 prisoners released into the community in the last six months.
  • 25% of prisoners were receiving psychosocial support for substance misuse at the time of inspection.
  • 213 prisoners released on home detention curfew in the previous six months

Read the Report

Murder Trial: HMP Pentonville. Officers “Did Favours” for Inmates Jury Told

jamalmahmoudPrison officers at a north London jail would regularly do “favours” for prisoners, including smuggling contraband, the widow of a fatally-stabbed inmate has told a court.

New father Jamal Mahmoud, 21, was allegedly attacked by three fellow prisoners in a battle over illicit phones and a knife on G Wing of HMP Pentonville on October 18 last year.

Melissa Modeste, who spoke to her husband in the hours before the attack, told the Old Bailey Mr Mahmoud claimed he could “get let out” of his cell to settle a dispute with a rival faction.

Asked if she found this surprising, Ms Modeste said: “No, because I know what the guards are like there. They let people out, they do favours like bring stuff in.”

The trial has heard how Mr Mahmoud was allegedly killed by three fellow inmates in a battle to control the wing’s “lucrative” contraband route.

Robert Butler, 31, Basana Kimbembi, 35, and Joshua Ratner, 27, deny murder as well as wounding Mr Mahmoud’s associate Mohammed Ali, with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm.

The location of the victim’s cell on the fifth floor of G Wing occupied a prime position, giving him power over the influx of contraband, jurors have heard.

Before his death, he was said to be angry about other inmates bringing in parcels without “cutting him in” on the deal.

Questioning Ms Modeste, Michael Holland QC, defending Kimbembi, suggested: “As far as parcels were concerned, it was his operation. It was the fact they were bringing parcels in without his permission.”

Mr Mahmoud spoke with his wife for around an hour and a half the night before he died, on one of the 15 phone numbers she had for him, the trial heard.

Ms Modeste said: “He wasn’t the happiest. He was being very blunt and I kept asking what was wrong.

“He said he felt violated. He said they pulled a knife on him.”

Ms Modeste said she brought one of Mr Mahmoud’s friends in on a three-way call on the morning of his death to help “calm him down”.

She said: “Jamal was in his cell. He said he was going to get someone to unlock his cell. He was saying something along the lines of ‘I’m not going to let this slide’.

“I told him he shouldn’t do anything and made a threat to him, saying I would never speak to him again.”


Emerson Cole, a prison officer on G wing at the time, was warned by an inmate that knives were stashed in a cell the day before the killing.

Mr Cole, now a senior officer, said of the inmate: “He had a concerned look on his face. He said he’d never seen nothing like it before.

“He said: ‘If it don’t kill one of you,’ meaning officers, ‘then it’s going to kill one of us,’ meaning prisoners.”

The following morning, the cell was searched but no blades were found.

Following the attack, Pentonville officers “voted no confidence in the governor” Kevin Reilly, the court heard.

Questioning, Mr Holland said: “The concern was the inquiry would seek to lay blame.Prison staff were concerned management were not going to take responsibility. Staff had made complaints they were overwhelmed.

“Matters were made worse when two prisoners escaped just over a fortnight later – it was like something out of The Great Escape, wasn’t it?”

James Whitlock and Matthew Baker went on the run in November last year after breaking out of the Victorian prison by sawing through a metal bar, clambering over the roof and swinging round a CCTV pole on a bed sheet.

The trial continues.

Prison “unaware a man was in their jail”


A High Court judge has raised concerns after saying prison bosses did not appear to know that a prisoner was in their jail.

Mr Justice Newton today said he was “less than impressed” about what had happened at Pentonville prison in north London.

He said a man may have been falsely imprisoned, said court time and public money had been wasted and described the episode as “chaotic”.

Problems emerged on Friday July 3 when salesman Mohammed Chaudhry, of Kettering, Northamptonshire, failed to appear at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, where the disappearance of a child was being investigated.

Mr Justice Newton had remanded Chaudhry in custody for five days the previous Monday, during the latest phase of investigations into the disappearance of his nephew Mani Dad, who turned seven this week.

Chaudhry was brought to court today and released on bail pending a further hearing on July 16.

“I am less than impressed with what went on at Pentonville prison,” said Mr Justice Newton. “Pentonville prison did not appear to know he was in there.”

He added: “It seemed to be chaotic and caused a great deal of court delay and court time and public expenditure to be wasted whilst the prison staff tried to identify where he was.”

The judge said Chaudhry may “effectively” have been “kept falsely in prison”.

“It is most unsatisfactory,” he said, “and it is not an isolated incident.”

He added: “It is necessary for those that are responsible for people in custody to understand that court orders must be complied with. Prisoners must be produced.”

Mr Justice Newton had asked the governor or deputy governor of Pentonville prison to appear before him today and offer an explanation, but he said no-one had been able to attend the hearing for “emergency operational reasons”.


The judge has been told that Mani was living with his Polish mother Leyla Dad, 33, in Kielce, Poland, when he vanished six months ago.

He is thought to be in the UK with his British father, Ms Dad’s estranged husband, Zayn Dean, 47, who is also known as Dholtana Dad, lawyers say.

Ms Dad has launched family court proceedings in a bid to find her son.

Lawyers for Ms Dad have suggested that Chaudhry, who is also known as Aslam Yousuf and Mohammed Nawaz and has links to Bedford, knows where his brother and Mani are.

Barrister Emily Rayner today told Mr Justice Newton that Chaudhry’s family had “managed to conceal” Mani.

Mr Justice Newton has spoken of his ”grave anxiety” for Mani’s welfare.

He has been told that Mr Dean has links to Kettering, Bedford, Birmingham and Manchester.

Ms Dad, who uses her middle name, Paulina, has made a direct appeal to Mr Dean and written an open letter to Mani, saying: ”I promise we will be together again soon my baby.”

Lawyers say she has begun legal proceedings under the terms of the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Judges have given permission for detail of the case to be released to the media.

Lawyers have told Mr Justice Newton that Chaudhry had been arrested at an address in Bedford by High Court security staff after attempts to serve paperwork requiring him to come to court failed.

Prison Officer jailed over tips to newspaper

Reggie Nunkoo sold stories about celebrities such as George Michael
Reggie Nunkoo sold stories about celebrities such as George Michael

A former prison officer has been jailed for 10 months for selling “salacious gossip” about celebrity inmates to the Sun and Mirror newspapers.

While working at Pentonville Prison, Reggie Nunkoo, 41, was paid £600 by the Mirror for information he gave reporter Graham Brough about Jack Tweed being on suicide watch and a prison break in 2009, the court heard.

Nunkoo, of Walthamstow, east London, went on to approach the Sun and handed journalist Neil Millard details about singer George Michael crying in his cell and being moved to a “soft” prison after he was jailed for driving under the influence of cannabis in 2010.

He was also paid in 2011 for a Sun article headlined, Acid thug hid drugs in his cell, about Daniel Lynch, who was convicted of arranging an acid attack on TV presenter Katie Piper.

The officer, who used the pseudonym Roy, admitted he was purely motivated by money and had pocketed a total of £1,650, the court heard.

When he was arrested in June 2013, police found photographs of celebrity Blake Fielder-Civil, ex-partner of the late singer Amy Winehouse, at his home, prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC said.

Nunkoo earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and was today jailed for 10 months at the Old Bailey.

The Common Serjeant of London said his conduct had amounted to a “flagrant breach” of the terms of his employment and a “gross breach of trust”.

He ordered Nunkoo to pay £1,000 he had gained through his crime plus a £100 victim surcharge.

In mitigation, his lawyer Jonathan Page said the information Nunkoo handed over was “more salacious gossip that anything that undermines security”.

He said the offences were committed in the context of a “picture of a marriage in crisis and a wife demanding a better lifestyle to be provided her than Mr Nunkoo could provide on his wages”.

As a result, the defendant, who has shown “genuine remorse”, is now back living with his parents in the bedroom he grew up in, Mr Page said.

At the same hearing, the judge handed a four-month sentence suspended for 12 months to Metropolitan Police Service civilian worker Rosemary Collier, who admitted misconduct in a public office in relation to her dealings with Mr Millard in 2010.

Collier, who worked at the central communications command in Bow, was paid £700 for information from a confidential briefing note on how to act in the face of a terrorist shooting incident.

It led to a story in the Sun headlined Mumbai Raid Fear for Xmas Shoppers, the court heard.

Collier, 40, of Tiverton in Devon, appeared tearful in the dock as the judge ordered her to pay the sum total of the money she gained amounting to £772, plus a £80 victim surcharge.

Mr Millard, 33, of south Croydon, and Mr Brough, 54, of south-west London, were both cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office following a trial last month at the Old Bailey.

In his evidence, Brough said he did not believe Nunkoo was a prison officer at the time and he only give him “limited information” for his stories.

Following the sentencing, Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs, leading on Elveden, said: “Collier and Nunkoo leaked confidential information obtained in the course of their duties to journalists for their own private financial gain.

“When public officials act in this way, they betray the trust placed in them and undermine public confidence, their dishonest actions harm the public interest and merit criminal sanction.”

HMP Pentonville – “Huge Challenges”

Exercise yard at Pentonville Prison, north London
Exercise yard at Pentonville Prison, north London

HMP Pentonville was very concerning, despite the best efforts of many staff and governors, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the north London local jail.

At the time of the inspection, Pentonville was seriously overcrowded and held 1,236 men, 35% above its certified normal accommodation. More than half the population were held on remand or for short sentences of less than six months. All local prisons hold needy and challenging populations but at Pentonville this was especially so. Eleven per cent of men had been assessed as malnourished when they were admitted to the prison. About half of all the men held were on the caseload of the prison’s drug and alcohol service. The mental health service received about 100 referrals a month. The prison was shortly to start taking remanded young adults who would no longer be held at HMP YOI Feltham.

The staffing reductions the prison was required to make were having a number of serious consequences. A number of staff accepted for voluntary redundancy were still working at the prison; some were disengaged and their attitudes were having a detrimental effect on the prison as a whole. Prison service procedures, which did not take into account the London recruitment market, were making it difficult to fill some critical posts. The prison was operating at well below its agreed staffing levels and the governor was due to move. In the face of all this, inspectors were impressed that in some areas there had been improvements.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • some good systems were in place to tackle antisocial behaviour;
  • the very high levels of violence found at the last inspection had reduced, but levels remained slightly higher than in similar prisons;
  • first night arrangements had improved;
  • support for those most vulnerable to self-harm was good, but the application of some safer custody processes needed to be more consistent;
  • the prison was vigorously combating the supply of drugs and alcohol and support for the large number of prisoners with substance misuse issues was well developed;
  • managers had worked hard to improve the personal officer scheme;
  • the large number of foreign national prisoners received some good support, but the Home Office’s input on immigration matters was inadequate;
  • the quality of teaching mostly good;
  • strategic management of resettlement work had improved and the approach was based on a good needs analysis of the population; and
  • reintegration planning was reasonable, though too many prisoners were being overlooked.

However, inspectors were concerned that:

  • almost half of prisoners said they had felt unsafe in the prison at some time;
  • the core day was unpredictable and prisoners were often unlocked late and association cancelled because of staff shortages;
  • the segregation unit environment and regime were particularly poor;
  • despite the prison’s efforts to combat drugs, positive drug testing results were high;
  • the physical conditions were poor and there were vermin infestations;
  • prisoners struggled with basic needs such as access to showers;
  • while some staff carried out good work, too many were distant and, on occasion, dismissive;
  • management of learning and skills had not sufficiently progressed, there were insufficient activity places for the population and those available were not well used; and
  • although good work was being carried out with high risk and indeterminate sentence prisoners, the focus on other groups was less well developed.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Pentonville faces huge challenges and many staff and governors have worked with determination and skill to meet them. At the time of the inspection the prison was going through a particularly difficult time as it made the transition to new staffing levels. Nevertheless, it is clear that Pentonville cannot operate as a modern 21st century prison without investment in its physical condition, adequate staffing levels to manage its complex population and effective support from the centre. It these things cannot be provided, considerations should be given to whether HMP Pentonville has a viable future.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector recognises that progress has been made at Pentonville in important areas despite the challenges inherent in running a large, old prison with a highly transient and challenging population.

“The reduction in violence and the advances in resettlement are particularly noteworthy and the former Governor and staff deserve credit for the progress made.

“At the time of the inspection the prison was transitioning to new staffing profiles and new working arrangements which will provide a decent, consistent and stable regime for prisoners going forward. Pentonville will receive the support it requires to build on the progress made and to address the further recommendations set out in this report.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: