Belmarsh prison has seen an large increase in mail sent in to prisoners contaminated with spice, cannabis, and other substances during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 42 contaminated letters and pictures were prevented from entering the high-security prison in Woolwich, mostly during the lockdown and sent in by lawyers.

Whilst trafficking decreased as visitors were banned from Belmarsh during the first major lockdown, correspondences which tested positive for illegal substances rose.

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Whilst the 42 contaminated letters were stopped by guards, packages containing cannabis and its synthetic version spice were flagged as a concern by the Independent Monitoring Board.

Once a year, the Prison Act 1952 requires every prison to be monitored by an independent board (IMB) appointed by the Secretary of State from members of the community in which the prison or centre is situated.

Last week, the News Shopper reported on this years annual report, which found the pandemic had "dominated life" at the Category A prison.

Violent gangs and 'deplorable' shower conditions were also flagged as areas of immediate concern, but inspectors said they were impressed with how the jail had coped.

But findings regarding contaminated items suggest the majority of offending letters were 'bogus Rule 39 mail', which are confidential letters between a prisoner and their legal counsel, in this case being falsified by lawyers.

Between June 2019 and May this year, there were 110 drug finds by the prison service.

A number of the finds elsewhere in the establishment were also suspected paper contamination and subsequently tested positive for spice, and an itemiser machine was key in identifying substances found elsewhere in the prison.

There were also 10 alcohol finds, 150 weapon finds, mostly minor, and 23 mobile phone finds.

In HMP Wandsworth, an investigation was launched after an increase in packages being thrown over the prison walls.

Elsewhere in the report, the main area of concern was, once again, the existence and influence of gangs within Belmarsh.

Prison staff regularly work to separate members from different gangs, and a "major concern for the staff is the large number of conflicts they have to deal with when transporting prisoners for court appearances."

The jail has managed to keep the confirmed number of Covid-19 cases low during the pandemic, a major concern at other sites, and Belmarsh's management of prisoners in lockdown was judged to be "exceptionally good."

In fact, lockdown reportedly "dominated life" at the jail, with the prisoners "confined to cells for a majority of the time, typically 23 hours a day."

The report said: "The Covid-19 pandemic had seriously detrimental effects in a number of areas: it brought an abrupt and total halt to purposeful activity; it deprived prisoners of the opportunity to see family and friends, in person on visits; and it confined prisoners to their cells for up to 23 hours a day."

Major concerns also remain at HMP Belmarsh, the highest-security jail situated across 60 acres of the old Ministry of Defence site in Woolwich, over mental health issues amongst prisoners and the shower conditions.