Illegal drugs and mobile phones inside Leeds prisons are ‘big business’

Operation Gartley involved a week of search activity and patrols at HMP Leeds.
Operation Gartley involved a week of search activity and patrols at HMP Leeds.

Stemming the flow of illegal drugs getting into the hands of prisoners is one of the key aims of a £10m pilot project taking place some of the country’s “most challenging” prisons.

Two of the three sites covered by the Leeds District Prison Crime Team – HMP Leeds and HMP Wealstun – are among those chosen for a blitz on drugs and violence announced in August.

Read more: Gang arrested in Harehills after drugs and mobile phones thrown over prison wall in Wetherby

More than half of the cash is to be used on extra security measures, with more drug-detection dogs, body scanners and improved perimeter defences to stop drones from being used to ferry contraband.

It is designed to boost work already being done to tackle this long-standing issue for prisons across the country.

The Leeds District team recently joined forces with national prison search teams for an operation at HMP Leeds which led to 85 seizures of drugs or mobiles phones.

Det Insp David Roberts said: “The intention is we’ll keep doing these kind of operations but it does take a lot of the national resources. To search a prison the size of Leeds is not a small undertaking.”

Read more: How the drug Spice is being smuggled into Leeds prison and who is responsible

Operation Gartley involved a week of searching prisoners and their cells, visitors and staff, plus the exercise yard.

High visibility patrols were also carried out around the perimeter of the Category B prison in Armley, which holds up to 1,212 prisoners.

Det Sgt Lee Stowe said: “If they’ve got a particular problem or have got intelligence, we will act on it. We’ve been up to the prisons before waiting for people.”

Acting on tips such as those can pay off too, with 70 tablets of Subutex – a drug used to treat heroin addiction – seized from one smuggler at HMP Wealstun.

The incentives are high for those who can get contraband goods inside, though, as a packet of cigarettes can sell for as much as £200 and even cigarette rolling papers fetch around £20.

Read more: Leeds prisoner had mobile phone and cannabis hidden in his jail cell

Mobile phones – some of which are marketed for sale online with HMP branding and are as small as 7cm in length – are a valuable asset for those who want to continue their criminal enterprises from inside jail.

Det Sgt Stowe said: “It’s to ring people and continue their criminality. These people are businessmen. A mobile phone to them in prison is priceless.

“People are getting assaulted and made to hold the phones for other people. It’s really big business if they can continue what they’re doing.”

He said the courts recognise this and are supportive of the effort being put into finding out who is holding phones.

“The sentences they’re passing are not minor,” Sgt Stowe said. “We’ve had 18 months in prison for a mobile phone.”