My hell guard­ing gang­sters, mur­der­ers and psy­chos

For­mer Strange­ways prison of­fi­cer Neil Sam­worth tells of his daily bat­tle go­ing head to head with Bri­tain’s most dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals and how the job al­most cost him his san­ity

Daily Express - - DAY & NIGHT - By Do­minic Ut­ton

THE first time Neil Sam­worth walked on to the no­to­ri­ous K Wing of Manch­ester’s Strange­ways Prison, he con­fesses to feel­ing in­tim­i­dated. Then 43, al­ready an ex­pe­ri­enced prison of­fi­cer and by his own ad­mis­sion a “big lad” used to han­dling him­self, he was none­the­less se­ri­ously out of his com­fort zone.

“It’s an ex­tremely in­tim­i­dat­ing place,” he says. “K Wing is the big­gest wing in north-west Eng­land, it holds 200 pris­on­ers over three land­ings. And when all 200 are out, there would be just six of­fi­cers watch­ing them, two on each land­ing.

“It’s a Vic­to­rian jail and has this grim, dark at­mo­sphere and as you can imag­ine, when you’ve got 200 gang­sters, mur­der­ers and vi­o­lent of­fend­ers all milling about, it’s quite tense.

“There’s some ex­tremely bad lads in there. A lot are very tough, they know how to fight, there’s a fair amount of men­tal health is­sues and many have been brought up in rough en­vi­ron­ments. They’re used to it… but to the gen­eral pub­lic you would be ter­ri­fied. It could be a pretty ter­ri­fy­ing place.”

Neil went on to spend 11 years at Strange­ways be­fore be­ing re­tired with post trau­matic stress dis­or­der and has now writ­ten about his ex­pe­ri­ences in a new book, Strange­ways: A Prison Of­fi­cer’s Story. If it is a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the work­ings of a prison and the ef­fects that staffing cuts have had on those try­ing to main­tain or­der, it is also a fre­quently shock­ing read.

Dur­ing his time at the prison, whose for­mer in­mates in­clude “Doc­tor Death” Harold Ship­man, Moors mur­derer Ian Brady and one-eyed cop killer Dale Cre­gan, Neil dealt with some of the most dan­ger­ous men in Bri­tain, in­clud­ing 10 months guard­ing Mark Bridger, who in May 2013 was found guilty of the ab­duc­tion and mur­der of five-year-old April Jones in Wales.

MEN­TION Bridger now and Neil al­most vis­i­bly shud­ders. “I’ve al­ways been com­fort­able around peo­ple – I could talk to the worst pris­on­ers in there,” he says. “But he was some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“To de­scribe how he af­fected you… I could spend all day try­ing to put it in words. It was like an evil cloud of fog that just en­velops you and fol­lows you around.

“Ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion he had with staff, with pris­on­ers, psy­chol­o­gists… I couldn’t pin­point what it was about him that af­fected peo­ple so much.

“I al­ways stayed pro­fes­sional but there was some­thing about him, you wanted to punch him in the face. He gave ev­ery­one the creeps. He was evil and when you were near him it was like you’re touch­ing evil. I hated him, I’m still af­fected by him now.”

But if Bridger was the worst pris­oner Neil was charged with guard­ing, he was by no means the only “bad lad” un­der his watch.

“The thing is, you couldn’t just fo­cus on him,” he says. “You’re also manag­ing a load of other po­ten­tially vi­o­lent, dan­ger­ous in­di­vid­u­als. There was an­other in there at the same time, a guy

‘Staff cuts kicked in and we be­gan to see a lot more drugs’

called Jonathan who had killed a nurse and we were warned about him be­fore he ar­rived.

“He was a body­builder, a nar­cis­sist… you’re just sur­rounded by these peo­ple.

“If you look at K Wing, at one time we had about 36 pris­on­ers who were from the two main Manch­ester gangs, we had about 20 to 30 mur­der­ers, and an­other 60 to 70 lads who were in for vi­o­lent crimes. And no one’s shocked.

“The only peo­ple that don’t mix in with ev­ery­one else are the rapists and pae­dophiles. They’re kept away from the rest for their own safety.”

De­spite the con­stant un­der­cur­rent of vi­o­lence and the pres­sures that came from mix­ing with the worst so­ci­ety has to of­fer ev­ery day, Neil says that in the be­gin­ning he en­joyed his job. The of­fi­cers were a close-knit team, the pris­on­ers were by and large or­derly and away from work he and part­ner Amy had had a daugh­ter, Bil­lie, now 11.

He says that at that time his job was “mostly peo­ple watch­ing”, keep­ing an eye on the pris­on­ers’ wel­fare as much as mak­ing sure they be­haved, and that his pol­icy of al­ways treat­ing them with­out prej­u­dice – de­spite their crimes – meant that by and large the in­mates re­spected him too.

Speak­ing now he pin­points the ex­act date that all changed.

“March 1, 2015,” he says firmly.

CRUEL: Po­lice killer Dale Cre­gan

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