When Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League, arrived at Woodhill prison in January 2014 after being sentenced to 18 months in prison for mortgage fraud, he was told he’d be lucky to make it out alive. He has, and was recently released.
UK Telegraph by Jamie Bartlett: Woodhill is a maximum security prison. Around 15 per cent of inmates are Muslim (which mirrors national averages – Muslims, who make up 3 per cent of the total population, are overrepresented in British prisons). It also holds what are known as “category A” prisoners – the most serious offenders. This, according to Robinson, includes a number of Islamist extremists, such as those convicted last year of trying to detonate a bomb at an EDL march.
Why Robinson – whose crime makes him a category C prisoner – was sent there is not clear. However, it is not unusual for prisoners to be placed in category A prisons if the local prison is full at the time of sentencing. It was not a happy experience.
Robinson claims that Woodhill is a hotbed of Islamic radicalization. “I had staff telling me that the guards don’t run the prison, Islam does.” Radical preachers, he says, are paid £100 for every prisoner they convert. These preachers are “enforcing sharia on the wings, preventing non-Muslims from taking showers [with Muslims]”. Robinson further claims that a lot of people are converting to Islam inside the prison in order to become part of a Muslim gang, which gives them some protection. “If you convert,” he says, “you are automatically protected.”
Perhaps predictably, given who he is, Robinson tells me that everywhere he went he was threatened with violence from the prison’s Muslims. At one point, he says, he was put into a waiting room with some Muslim prisoners and the door was shut. “Almost immediately, I was attacked, beaten and kicked.” Robinson fought back, he says, and ended up getting into trouble for fighting.
Robinson even alleges this was a set-up by the authorities. “It was clear they were given a chance to get at me.” A prison service spokesperson I contacted confirmed that a prisoner was treated for “minor injuries” following an incident with one other inmate on the day in question.
The problem of Islamist extremism in prisons has recognised by the Home Office. According to a 2011 review of UK’s “Prevent” policy – which aims to steer people away from terrorist ideology – there is a risk of radicalisation in prison, and a lack of interventions to tackle Islamist extremism there.
The terms of Robinson’s early release include the condition that no one involved with the EDL can contact him until the end of his original sentence, which is still 12 months off. Before incarceration, he’d left the English Defence League and started working with the Quilliam Foundation, a Muslim think-tank. I’ve interviewed Robinson several times on the outside, and believe that he wants to set up a think-tank or an organisation of his own, something that goes beyond the EDL’s obsession with Islam.
At the moment, Tommy says, “anyone who complains about their community being changed by immigration is shouted down as being a racist or extremist.” “We need a new England where all religions and colours feel proud of our flag and recognise how important our identity and culture is.“