Prison is a harsh environment. It’s supposed to be. While incarceration’s primary functions are to separate people deemed a threat from wider society and attempt to rehabilitate them, the punishment factor is - unofficially - seen as something of an added bonus.
While jails are supposed to be tough, they’re not supposed to be dangerous. The trouble is, when you cram the country’s hardest, most devious and brutal criminals into the same buildings, you’re going to see problems. Violent problems.
Violence between prisoners is, seemingly, unavoidable. Personal issues, gang rivalries, fallouts over ‘business’, they are hundreds of reasons why prisoners may turn on each other. But just which famous British inmates are the most dangerous…?
Here’s how we see it:
1. Robert Maudsley
While extremely dangerous to certain inmates, Robert Maudsley never really gained a reputation as a ‘shot caller’ or ‘face’. And with good reason. His violence was targeted specifically at what he called ‘abusers’. He didn’t attack those around him to instill fear or ascend the criminal hierarchy. Robert Maudsley was a vigilante of sorts.
Maudsley is a serial killer, but a very unusual one. Most serial killers are arrested as such. This 67 year-old Liverpudlian had only killed once when he was detained. He received a sentence of life imprisonment with a recommendation that he never be released after he was found guilty of garrotting child sex offender John Farrell in London in 1974. Over the next four years, behind bars, he would kill another three child molesters.
'The prison authorities see me as a problem and their solution has been to put me into solitary confinement and throw away the key, to bury me alive in a concrete coffin. It does not matter to them whether I am mad or bad. They do not know the answer and they do not care just so long as I am kept out of sight and out of mind.'
Maudsley, now Britain's longest-serving prisoner knows his motivation. He once opined, 'if I had killed my parents in 1970, none of these people would have died.'
While not exactly a huge threat now, Maudsley surely has to feature as the UK's de facto most dangerous prisoner due to his shocking murder record inside. In 2021, Maudsley lost his appeal to live amongst the general prison population and will live out his days in his glass cell, as prison authorities have deemed him too dangerous to mix with other prisoners.
2. Charlie Bronson
Charles Arthur Salvador, aka Charles Ali Ahmed, aka Michael Gordon Peterson, aka Bronson, aka Charlie is the dangerous prisoner. He’s the man you think of when talk turns to ‘trouble in the nick’. The man is, quite simply, the archetype of the dangerous con.
Big, broad, manic-eyed and bushy-’tached, Charles Bronson is famous (well, okay, infamous) for his big house exploits. Often referred to as ‘the most violent prisoner in Britain’, his original convictions for petty theft and armed robbery came with relatively light sentences. But the relentless chaos, assaults on fellow inmates and guards and his penchant for hostage-taking have all seen him effectively locked up since 1974 (barring one year of release in the late eighties).
His story was made famous by a series of wittily-written books and, of course, the 2008 Nicolas Winding Refn film Bronson starring Tom Hardy as the man himself.
3. Damien Fowkes
'I hope I killed him. I’ve been planning it for weeks.' That's what Fowkes was heard to say shortly after plunging a shiv into the neck of Ian Huntley in 2011. The seven-inch wound only narrowly missed Huntley's jugular vein. Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman's killer was extremely lucky to survive.
Fowkes, now something of a folk hero among inmates at Frankland Prison in County Durham, pleaded guilty to attempted murder.
The prosecuting QC said this of the attack on the Soham child killer: 'The defendant slashed his neck with a homemade weapon fashioned with a razor melted on to the handle of a knife or some other plastic utensil.'
Fowkes, also strangled convicted child murderer Colin Hatch to death with torn-up strips of bedding at Full Sutton Prison near York just a month before turning his attention to Huntley.
A convicted armed robber, Fowkes was described as possessing 'strong psychopathic traits' during the trial for his crimes. He was given another life sentence for his troubles and is now, understandably, considered as incredibly dangerous.
4. Mark Hobson
Damien Fowkes isn’t the only dangerous prisoner in the British penal system that’s underscored their innate violence by viciously attacking the despised figure of Ian Huntley.
In September of 2005, fellow HMP Wakefield inmate Mark Hobson threw a bucket of boiling water over the Cambridgeshire killer. This came just one year after the killing spree that saw the West Yorkshire-born Hobson convicted for four murders. He was, during the eight-day manhunt, ‘Britain’s most wanted man’.
His willingness to attack other prisoners combined with the sheer ferocity of his murders (involving sustained sexual torture) makes Hobson someone prison authorities are requred to watch extremely closely at all times.
5. Joanna Dennehy
Serial killer Joanna Dennehy is currently serving a life sentence in prison for the shockingly violent stabbings of three men. Her crimes quickly marked her out as one Britain's most notorious female murderers, second only - perhaps - to Rosemary West.
Dennehy takes rivalry seriously. On arrival at HMP Bronzefield after sentencing, she sought out West, keen to make a point.
The high-profile criminologist and popular true-crime writer Christopher Berry-Dee has interviewed both women and has a good insight into their psyches. He says that Joanna Dennehy immediately sought to become the ‘top dog’ of the high-security Surrey prison.
Berry Dee told The Mirror: 'Between five and 20 minutes after first arriving at Bronzefield in 2014, she said she was going to kill Rose West. Dennehy quickly established herself as the shot-caller. She has guards and inmates at her beck and call.'
West was soon moved for her own safety after authorities heard about ‘The Peterborough Ditch Killer’s plans to attack her. Moving West didn’t calm Dennehy down, though. She is now widely regarded as the most dangerous female inmate in the country.
Dangerous prisoners sound pretty terrifying and, well, they can be. That said, prison’s a pretty good place for them. So just stay out of jail and you should be pretty safe.