Belmarsh Prison, situated in Thamesmead, South East London, UK, is one of the most secure prisons in the UK and classified as Category A–the highest level of security available within the system. As one of the most well-known and secure institutions within its region, Belmarsh maintains an exemplary record for security measures.
Belmarsh Prison opened its doors in 1991 and can accommodate approximately 900 male prisoners. It primarily houses those convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, and other violent offenses, plus those considered a high risk to public safety or who may attempt to escape.
Belmarsh Prison offers a range of facilities and services to support prisoners in its custody, such as a health care unit, education/training programs, and mental health support. It also has special units for those needing extra security measures like the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) for those posing significant risks to themselves or others, and Separation Centres for those needing separation from other inmates.
Facility Design of Belmarsh
Belmarsh Prison was designed by YRM (Yorke Rosenberg Mardall) in collaboration with the Prison Service during the late 1980s. This architectural firm had previously designed other prisons in the UK, such as Dartmoor and Long Lartin, so was selected for Belmarsh due to their expertise in designing high-security facilities.
Belmarsh Prison was designed with modern security requirements in mind, including the need to control and monitor prisoner movements. The central hub was created for these purposes, featuring control facilities, with wings radiating out from it providing accommodation for inmates. Furthermore, high perimeter walls, security fences, secure gates and barriers have been included to further ensure the safety of everyone serving their prison sentence inside the compound.
Safety of Prisoners at Belmarsh
Belmarsh prison, like all prisons in the UK, has a legal and moral duty to provide its prisoners with a secure environment. Unfortunately, due to the nature of prison populations and many high-risk inmates in its custody, incidents of violence or self-harm may occur.
Belmarsh Prison has implemented a variety of security measures to guarantee the safety of its prisoners, such as strict control and monitoring of movements within the facility, regular searches of cells and common areas, and an experienced security team to respond to any incidents that arise. Furthermore, prisoners have access to healthcare services, education/training programs, and mental health support to address any issues they may face while housed.
Despite these measures, violence and self-harm have been reported at Belmarsh and other high-security prisons in the UK. The prison system in this country faces ongoing difficulties in ensuring the safety and well-being of prisoners, particularly those considered high risk or have complex needs.
Cost of Operating Belmarsh Prison
The exact cost of running Belmarsh Prison is unknown, but it’s estimated to be around PS75,000 per prisoner annually. As of 2021, with 900 inmates served, that puts the annual running costs of the facility at approximately PS67.5 million.
The cost of running a prison includes many factors, such as staffing, security measures, healthcare services, food services and utilities. The amount charged per prisoner depends on several variables including the type of institution, required level of security and individual needs.
Many notable inmates served time at Belmarsh Prison in the UK.
Over the years, Belmarsh prison has held a number of notable detainees with high-profile status, many accused or convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism or high-profile white collar offenses. Here is a sampling of some notable detainees held there:
Abu Hamza al-Masri
A radical Islamist cleric and former leader of Finsbury Park Mosque in London, al-Masri was extradited to the US in 2012 to face terrorism charges.
Founder of Wikileaks, Assange was held at Belmarsh in 2019 while battling extradition to the US where he faces espionage charges for allegedly releasing classified documents.
Renowned British criminal and member of the Great Train Robbery gang, Biggs was detained at Belmarsh upon his return to Britain from Brazil in 2001 after living as an exile there.
A radical Islamist preacher and founder of al-Muhajiroun, Choudary was convicted of terrorism offenses in 2016 and spent time at Belmarsh before his release in 2018.
After being found guilty of the 2002 murders of two schoolgirls at Soham Village College, Huntley spent time at Belmarsh prison before being transferred to other facilities.
Book and plan your visit to Belmarsh
You must visit Belmarsh to be able to:
- Be on the person’s visitor list
- Book your visit in Advance
- Always have your ID handy when you travel
You can book a visit up to two weeks in advance.
Assistance with the cost of your trip
If you get certain benefits or have an NHS health certificate, you might be able to get help with the costs of your visit, including:
- travel to Belmarsh
- somewhere to stay overnight
How to book visits for family and friends
- For family members, friends and significant others, bookings are available.
- Each session has 36 spaces. Each housing unit will be one at a time.
- There is a tea bar outside the prison that can be used for light refreshments before entering, and there is a full-service tea bar inside the main hallway.
- There is also a play area in our visits centre, and a more staffed creche area along the main visitors hall.
- You can submit an application to have property transferred.
- You can book your visit online.
- You can also book your appointment by phone.
- You can also register for secure video calls. Book now by calling 020 8331 4750 or 0208 331 4760
- The booking line is available Monday through Friday, 9:30am – 3pm
- You can also book by emailing Belmarsh.email@example.com
- To check in and go through security, you can arrive up until 1 hour prior to your scheduled visit.
- Parking is limited, so arrive early to park and use the local transportation.
- Bookings must be made in advance for all visits. Only visitors whose names are on the Prisoner’s Authorisation Contact List (as supplied by the prisoner), and those named on the booking will have access to the prison.
Without the consent or authorisation of a prisoner, prison staff cannot add visitor(s), to a Prisoner’s Authorisation Contact list.
Tuesday through Thursday: 9:15am-10:45am, 2:05pm-3:45pm
Saturday: 9:00am to 11:00am, 2:05pm to 4:05pm
Sunday, 2:15pm to 4:15pm
How to book professional and legal visits
You can book face-to-face legal visits by calling 0208 331 8:30am to 3pm
Legal visiting times
- Tuesday through Thursday: 9:15am-11:15am, 2:05pm-4:05pm
- Friday 9am-10:30am
- Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: Closed
All authorized electronic equipment, such as laptops must have a clearly printed serial number.
Any questions? Please contact the booking team.
If you don’t want to, there is no requirement that you cover your face.
To book legal visits via Videolink, email firstname.lastname@example.org
How to get to Belmarsh?
Locate Belmarsh on the map
Plumstead and Woolwich Arsenal are the nearest railway stations. You can walk from Plumstead to Belmarsh or take a bus to Woolwich Arsenal.
Plan your journey with public transport
- Use Transport for London’s journey planner
- Use National Rail Enquiries
- Traveline is a great resource for bus schedules in your area
Parking is available for visitors.
Visitors over 16 years old must show proof of identity before they can enter the prison. Check out the acceptable forms of ID for visiting prisons.
Everyone, including children, will require a pat-down search. Your photo will be taken on your first visit. Your fingerprints and eye scan may be taken. Security dogs may also sniff you.
Belmarsh has strict dress codes. Visitors should wear smart, family-friendly clothing (no ripped clothes, vests or low-cut tops; no shorts, short dresses, sports team clothing; no watches; minimal jewellery; no offensive slogans; no headwear other than those worn for religious purposes).
Refreshments will be available during your visit.
You can only bring certain items into Belmarsh. Most of your belongings must be left behind in a locker. You can also leave your car seats and pushchairs behind.
An officer will inform you of the rules before you start your visit. You could lose your visa and be barred from returning to the country.
The Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) runs a family-friendly visitors center.
To book a visit, visitors should make an appointment at the visitors centre. There is currently no food or play area for children.
Telephone: 0208 317 3888
Belmarsh offers 1 family day per month.
Get in touch with Belmarsh
You have many options to keep in touch during your time at Belmarsh.
Secure video calling
- Get the Prison Video App
- Register for an account
- Register all visitors
- Add the prisoner’s name to your contact list.
How to book a secure conference call
The Prison Video app allows you to request a secure video chat with someone inside this prison.
When your request is accepted, you will be notified.
Learn more about the process
Video calls timings
- Tuesday through Thursday: 11am to 12pm, 4:30pm until 5pm
- Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Closed
The phones are in the prison cells, but they will still need to be able to call you. To do this, they will need to purchase phone credits. They are not available after 10 p.m., but they can be accessed at other times throughout the day.
They can call anyone on the list of their friends and family. They will need to verify their list with security before they can call. It may take several days for them to be able make a call. It may take longer depending on the individual case.
You can also use the Prison Voicemail service to exchange voicemails.
As a means of helping people stay safe and preventing crime, officers may listen to calls.
Emails can be sent to Belmarsh via the Email a Prisoner Service.
You can write whenever you like.
The envelope should contain the name of the person and the prisoner number (or the date of birth). The envelope must be returned with your name and address.
Officers will inspect all mail, except legal letters.
Send money and gift
Send money to a prisoner using the online service for free and quick.
Money cannot be sent by bank transfer, cheque or postal order.
You may be eligible to request an exemption if you are unable to use the online service.
Are unable to use a computer or a smart phone, or the internet.
do not have a debit card
This will enable you to send money via post.
Send gifts and parcels
Except in exceptional circumstances, prisoners are not permitted to have parcels delivered into Belmarsh.
Prisoners can purchase items from approved suppliers’ catalogues.
Families and friends of prisoners can send books to loved ones or order books from authorized retailers that can source the books and deliver them to prisoner.
The Prison Advice and Care Trust offers information, support and guidance to family members and friends about visiting prisons.
Telephone (PACT: 020 8331 4682
Problems and complaints
Belmarsh can help you if you have any problems. You can also complain to HM Prison and Probation Service if you are unable to resolve the issue directly.
In response to independent inspections, HM Prison and Probation Service publishes Belmarsh action plans.
Governor: Jenny Louis
Telephone: 020 8331 4400
Monday through Friday, 7am-8pm; weekends, 7am-5pm
Fax: 020 8331 4401
Learn more about calling charges
Twitter: Follow Belmarsh via Twitter
Hotline for safer custody
You can call the safer custody hotline to leave a message if you have any concerns about the safety and wellbeing of Belmarsh prisoners. Within 24 hours, someone will contact you.
Telephone: 0208 331 4890
Monday through Friday, 8am-4pm; weekends, 8am-12pm. Weekends, 8am-12pm.
For an immediate response, dial 0208 331 4781 (or 0208 331 4866)