HM Prison Belmarsh is a Category A men's prison, located in the Thamesmead area of the London Borough of Greenwich, in south-east London, England. Belmarsh Prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service.


Belmarsh Prison was built on part of the East site of the former Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, and became operational on 2 April 1991. Belmarsh is adjacent/adjoined to Woolwich Crown Court, which means the prison can be used for high profile cases (including those concerning national security).

Between 2001 and 2002 Belmarsh Prison was used to detain a number of people indefinitely without charge or trial under the provisions of the Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, leading it to be called the "British version of Guantanamo Bay". The law lords later ruled that such imprisonment was discriminatory and against the Human Rights Act.

It is often used for the detention of prisoners for terrorist related offences. In September 2006 the number of such prisoners was 51.

In May 2007, there was a violent disturbance in the prison, Sky News reported. At least four prison guards were injured.

In November 2009, an inspection report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised the "Extremely high" amount of force used to control inmates at the prison. The report also stated that an increased amount of prisoners had reported being intimidated or victimised by staff at Belmarsh.

The prison today

Belmarsh is a Category A Prison holding prisoners from all over the United Kingdom. In addition Belmarsh is a local prison, accepting different categories of prisoners from primarily the Central Criminal Court and magistrates Courts in South East London. In addition the establishment serves Crown and Magistrates Courts in South West Essex. Accommodation at the prison is a mixture of approximately 60% multi occupancy cells and 40% single cells, distributed mainly across 4 residential units.

Inmates at Belmarsh are offered access to education, workshops, and 2 gyms (one focusing on Physical Education courses and one for recreational gym), with use of a sports hall and a weights room. The gym staff also have a partnership with Charlton Athletic F.C. to deliver F.A. accredited coaching courses for prisoners.

A listener scheme for prisoners at risk from suicide or self harm is in operation at Belmarsh. There is also a support group for foreign national prisoners, providing advice on immigration law.

Notable inmates
  • Abu Hamza al-Masri, 2004: On 7 February 2006 Hamza was found guilty of 11 of the 15 charges he faced. He was sentenced to seven years to run concurrently for eight counts and 21 months for the others. He has already been in jail since May 2004 and awaiting extradition to the USA.
  • Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, 2005
  • Jeffrey Archer, 2001: Archer wrote about his stay in Belmarsh in the first volume of A Prison Diary and used the setting extensively in his novel A Prisoner of Birth.
  • Dhiren Barot
  • Ronnie Biggs
  • Dave Courtney
  • Michael Forwell: Marijuana smuggler. Spent one and a half years in Belmarsh fighting extradition to America where he was wanted in relation to the seizure of 72 tons of marijuana found aboard his boat, Encounter Bay
  • Barry George
  • Jonathan King
  • Jonathan Aitken
  • Harpal Sirah 2011
  • Paul Magee
  • Lotfi Raissi, 2001
  • Richard Tomlinson
  • Steven Gerald James Wright
  • UK DrinkOrDie Members, 2005
  • Charles Bronson (prisoner)
  • Curtis Warren: Removed from La Moye Prison in Jersey due to security risks. Will return to Jersey in December for sentencing