Historic British Prison Wormwood Scrubs Has 'Levels of Dickensian Squalor'

HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, London, on October 22, 2012. A report found that safety at the Category B men's jail had deteriorated since a previous probe raised serious concerns. Paul Hackett/Getty

One of Britain's most famous jails is rat-infested and overcrowded, with prisoners spending most of their time holed up in squalid cells because they are too afraid to leave, an inspection report has revealed.

A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that safety at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, a Category B men's jail, in London, had deteriorated since a previous probe raised serious concerns.

The jail, which once incarcerated notoriously violent criminal Charles 'Salvador' Bronson, Oscar Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas and Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty, had "levels of Dickensian squalor", the Prison Reform Trust said.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) said the prison, home to 1,300 inmates, had "moved forward" since the inspection. The HM Inspectorate of Prisons' report was carried out between 30 November and 4 December 2015.

Two inmates at the west London jail who were deemed to be at risk of suicide or self-harm were found to be in cells in which jagged glass remained in a broken window.

Some prisoners used a torn sheet as a makeshift toilet screen, while others stuffed paper in to broken windows to "keep out the weather," the report found.

Inspectors said they saw rats "every day and night" of their visit, with one in five prisoners saying they felt unsafe.

Chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said: "Wormwood Scrubs is a prison that continues to fall short of expected standards, and at the time of our inspection there was little cause for optimism."

Michael Spurr, CEO of NOMS, said the "old, crowded" jail was "challenging to run" but changes were being made.

"Since the inspection the prison is cleaner; more prisoners are going to activities; violence is being tackled; and better support is being provided to vulnerable prisoners," he said.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: "This shattering report on London's best-known Victorian jail reveals levels of Dickensian squalor which ought to have been consigned to the history books."

The government previously announced plans to close Victorian jails and build nine new prisons, but only HMP Holloway, a prison for women and young offenders in London, has been confirmed to face closure.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said it was "investing £1.3bn to transform the prison estate."