The brutal reality of the spice epidemic behind bars

Inside Britain’s prisons: Inmates brag about how they smuggle in phones and make THOUSANDS by dealing Spice – while staff cuts leave guards struggling to cope – in shocking documentary

  • A new Channel 4 documentary reveals the Spice epidemic in British prisons
  • Prisoners smuggle drugs and black market phones in their body cavities 
  • One inmate boasts about controlling Durham Prison’s supply of Spice 
  • Another is found with a heroin substitute but pays an inmate to take the fall 
  • Channel 4 show explores what’s really going on in the UK prison system  

A shocking new documentary lays bare the chilling reality of life inside the walls of a British prison.

Channel 4 cameras capture inmates bragging about smuggling in mobile phones in their backsides, making thousands by dealing the drug Spice – and forcing fellow prisoners to take the blame for their drug dealing on the wing – all under the noses of over-stretched guards.

The new series Prison, from BAFTA winner Paddy Wivell, which investigates the network of inmates involved in dealing Spice in Durham Prison, explains how in the past every prison had its own dedicated search team with sniffer dogs to ensure inmates and cells were drug free, but now five prisons are overseen by a single team. 

Staffing cuts mean dealing and drug use is rife, as exposed by tonight’s episode of Prison, in which gang leader Lewis McMahon shamelessly boasts about controlling Durham Prison’s Spice supply. Elsewhere, officers uncover a Kinder Egg stuffed with a heroin substitute in an associate of McMahon’s cell. 

Officers are also forced to put another prisoner, Michael Surtees, in solitary confinement after he ingested a packet of drugs and concealed a phone in his back passage, because they are forbidden from performing cavity searches.     

McMahon, one of some 900 prisoners in the category B facility, described the wings as a ‘dog eat dog’ world, and crowed about how he avoids any punishment for flouting the rules – because he has a network of vulnerable prisoners willing to take the fall on his behalf. 

The new series Prison, from BAFTA winner Paddy Wivell, gives viewers a rare look into one of Britain’s prisoners as crews visit HMP Durham

In the past each prison would have their own dedicated search team with sniffer dogs but cuts mean there is now a single team shared between five prisons

Rather than take the wrap for their crimes, gang simply pay other inmates to claim the drugs

In one scene McMahon, of Newcastle, is filmed boasting about how he controls the prison’s supply of Spice.

He tells the camera: ‘Spice, spice is the kid I like. Make £3,000 off an ounce of Spice in here. When there’s a nice team of lads on the wing, there’s nothing people can do with you. Cause they’ll just get done straight in.’ 

McMahon and his gang are captured spiking another inmate’s cigarette with Spice, laughing when he begins to walk around in a stupor while in the grip of the drug.

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When guards try to punish McMahon and his associates for dealing, the gang simply pay other inmates to claim the drugs – leaving them free to continue with their criminal enterprise behind bars.   

The documentary also introduces viewers to Michael Surtees, 30, who has been in and out of prison since he was 15.

Surtees is placed in solitary confinement after the body orifice security scanner – known as the BOSS chair – detects that he is hiding contraband inside his body.

Michael Surtees, 30, spends weeks in solitary confinement after ingesting a packet of drugs and concealing a mobile phone in his backside. He was first put behind bars as a teenager

Inmate Scott Storey is brought before the governor after a Kinder Egg of drugs is found in his cell during a raid. He escapes punishment after paying another inmate to take the fall

Surtees is scanned by guards after a body scanner reveals he has hidden contraband on his person 


Spice is a synthetic high which falls into a category of drug-like substances that can be bought in shops or online without breaking the law, but which give the body the same artificial rush of endorphins – or ‘high’ – as illegal drugs such as cannabis or ecstasy.

Black Mamba is a variation of Spice, a synthetic cannabinoid which has similar effects to natural cannabis.

However it is much more potent and reacts more strongly with the brain’s receptors.

Regular use can cause a relapse of mental health illness or increase the risk of developing a mental illness especially if someone has a family history of mental illness. 

Earlier this year, a global drugs survey found that hospital admissions as a result of taking the herbal substance Spice have increased by one-third since 2014.

Reported effects include convulsions, shortness of breath, kidney failure and cardiac arrest, as well as hallucinations and irreparable damage to the user’s mental health.

Spice was made illegal in May last year.

The inmate tells the cameras he has swallowed a packet of drugs and has inserted a mobile phone into his backside. 

Guards are allowed to perform strip searches to see if an inmate has something concealed on their person, but they aren’t allowed to perform cavity searches to look inside prisoners’ bodies for contraband.

Because of this guards have no choice but to place him in solitary confinement until he hands them over.

It takes two weeks before Surtees is cleared to rejoin the rest of the prison. 

By this point he has handed over a phone covered in electrical tape, flushed one load of drugs down the toilet and been able to pass a second phone to another inmate. 

Surtees admits drugs are the only way to make it through a prison sentence and is the quickest way to gaining power. 

He says: ‘It doesn’t matter how long your sentence is, if you’re coming to jail make sure you’ve got drugs.’ 

Other inmates turn to drugs as a way to escape. Inmate Stephen, the man whose cigarette was spiked by McMahon and his gang, describes the release he felt while stumbling around the yard semi-comatose.   

‘Those 15 minutes when I was in jail, it was like I was a free man,’ he says. ‘I was innocent and when you come around you realise you’re back to reality. Hell on earth.’

The Spice epidemic in the prison worsens to the point where staff bring in the region’s search team to raid the cells of McMahon and his associate Scott Storey. 

Gang leader Lewis McMahon, who shamelessly boasts about controlling the prison’s Spice supply and repeatedly avoids punishment by paying other inmates to take the fall

HMP Durham is a Category B men’s prison, which is a close prison for those who do not require maximum security

There are constant overdoses in the prison, and the crew capture two within the space of a few minutes of the other

Surtees admits drugs are the only way to make it through a prison sentence and is the quickest way to gaining power. Pictured, he is searched for drugs 

In the past each prison would have their own dedicated search team with sniffer dogs but cuts mean there is now a single team shared between five prisons in a region.

McMahon apparently receives a tip-off ahead of the search and hides his supply of drugs before officers arrive. Storey is found with a Kinder Egg shell filled with a heroin substitute.  

Storey is brought before the governor but walks away without punishment after paying another prisoner to claim the drugs belonged to him. 

Guards explain that the problem is unlikely to be solved while the staffing shortage continues. The few members who remain are often overworked.

Guards explain that the problem is unlikely to be solved while the staffing shortage continues

Inmate Stephen has his cigarette spiked with Spice by McMahon and his gang. He describes the release he felt while stumbling around the yard semi-comatose

Guards carry out a search of one of the cells during one scene in Channel 4’s Prison 

Drugs raids will frequently result in the finding of drugs and alcohol, which has been brewed by the prisoners themselves

Senior officer John Matthews explains: ‘Basically you’ve got to have eyes in your a***. There’s enough prisoners here that if they wanted to make things difficult for us than they could.’ 

Officials also point to the fact that the prisoners on remand are often sent to the prison, meaning there is a higher turnaround and greater opportunity for drugs to be brought in. 

This is compounded by the fact that many prisoners are serving short sentences. 

Prisoners can be strip searched but cannot have intimate bodily searches, making it harder for officers to confiscate contriband

Fights will often break out in the prison, but the understaffed officers find it difficult to control them

Senior officer John Matthews said understaffed officers are struggling to deal with the amount of prisoners

Residential governor Chris Hounslow says the drugs are be brought into the prisons from re-offenders

Residential governor Chris Hounslow says: ‘We do just see the same faces revolve through the door. A lot of it is theft, burglary that kind of stuff.

‘So we bring drug addicts into prison on really short sentences which makes it difficult, if not impossible to intervene with any kind of treatment.

‘We then wonder why we can’t reduce re-offending. It’s a constant battle and I hate to say it, a battle that we’re losing.’  

Prison airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4

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