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Prison response to fatal stabbing was a ‘disaster’

Pentonville officer tells of shock at disorganisation after inmate Jamal Mahmoud was killed in October last year

06 October, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Jamal Mahmoud was attacked in October last year in a dispute over control of the trade in contraband at Pentonville

THE response by prison chiefs to a fatal stabbing was a “disaster”, a senior Pentonville officer told a court this week.

A shortage of staff meant the prison in Caledonian Road was not put on lockdown and no searches were carried out after 21-year-old inmate Jamal Mahmoud was killed in October last year, a trial at the Old Bailey heard.

Three men, Basana Kimbembi, 35, Joshua Ratner, 27, and Robert Butler, 31, deny murder. Mr Mahmoud was attacked in October last year as part of a dispute over control of the trade in contraband on the wing, prosecutors have told the jury.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Dizzy Virgo, a senior prison officer who was working on G Wing, was asked whether she was “very shocked by the level of disorganisation after a critical incident” by Di Middleton QC, representing Butler. “Very much so,” Ms Virgo replied.

Ms Middleton asked the officer about earlier statements, adding: “You felt the organisation was a bit of a disaster. The control hub were telling you one thing when other governors were telling you another thing, and you had to make sense of that.” Ms Virgo replied: “Yes.”

Ms Middleton also suggested that “not much had changed” in the year since the incident, but before Ms Virgo could answer, Judge Richard Leon Marks QC, the Common Serjeant of London, said the question was not relevant to Mr Mahmoud’s death.

Pentonville Prison

The court was also told Ms Virgo, who said she was “passionate” about her work, had tried to introduce a safer system when letting prisoners out for lunch on G Wing, which houses 350 men.

But when she tried to get other prison officers to enforce the new system, she was told she could not expect them to match her work ethic. “I was appalled by it,” Ms Virgo added.

The court heard that she had applied to have Mr Mahmoud moved to another part of the prison as she was worried about a growing gang culture, but that this did not happen. “He should have been moved,” Ms Virgo said. “We didn’t want groups forming.”

The court had previously been told that Ms Virgo opened two cells holding the defendants despite being told by another prison officer that there would be trouble. The killing occurred around 20 minutes later.

Ms Virgo told the court that she had ordered the cells on floor five to be kept locked – Mr Mahmoud’s cell was located there – but her order was not followed.

“It was only after, when I was shown the CCTV, that I saw how many people were free on five [floor five],” Ms Virgo said.

Charles Sherrard QC said to her: “If your orders had been followed the people on the fifth floor should have been safely locked away out of harm’s way.” “Yes,” Ms Virgo replied.

According to a witness, Kimbembi, accompanied by Ratner and Butler – who were all armed – went up to the fifth floor, where a fight broke out. He stabbed another prisoner in the back and grabbed Mr Mahmoud before plunging the blade into his chest, it is alleged.

The three men also deny wounding another prisoner, Mohammed Ali. The trial continues.

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