The period between 1972 and 1974 was particularly difficult for Brixton.
As the remand prison for the whole of London, it was responsible for some of the most high-profile of inmates: these included two members of the IRA on a 200 day hunger strike. It was the time of ‘P.R.O.P’ – a newly-formed prisoners’ rights organisation – with people holding frequent ‘sit-down’ protests which could last whole days. The Prison Officers’ Association continually threatened, and occasionally took, strike action. Public protests were held outside the main gate – either in support of P.R.O.P or the IRA prisoners. Overcrowding was at impossible levels with shipments of inmates to Pentonville to alleviate the pressure. There were frequent escape bids – including one occasion when 14 prisoners got out en masse. Bomb hoaxes were a weekly occurrence.
B.D. Wigginton took over the unenviable job as the number one governor in August 1972. Here are some entries from his diary:
31/7/72 Escape Attempt. About six prisoners attempted to escape by taking over a bread van which was delivering to the prison.
4/8/72 At 10.15am 24 prisoners sat down in Hospital yard. At 10.25am 75 prisoners sat down in A yard. They dwindled throughout the night until all A Wing were clear by 5am. 18 F Wing came in at 8am. F Wing were very noisy and threw lighted paper from their cells.
31/8/73 I completed my first year as Governor in charge of Brixton. It is not a normal prison! The establishment is continually in a state of crisis; either approaching one or receding from one. Enquiries and post-mortems are the order of the day. Changes in an effort to improve conditions are always being considered.
15/10/73 The Brixton Police, at 21.15, reported that they had received a phone call to say that a bomb was planted on C wing and was due to explode at 22.15 hours. All prisoners were evacuated from C Wing by 21.45, the whole place was searched and nothing found. A further 20 minutes was allowed after the set time, and then the men were allowed back into the wings. Tea was served!
5/1/74 Two “gun-runners” from Santa Barbara, California, arrived at the prison after several days at Ealing Police Station. They appear to be connected with the Arab movement for regaining Palestine from the Jews. Trouble ahead for Brixton – I fear.
22/10/74 The IRA held a demonstration on Brixton Hill and Dumbarton Road. About 50 people lined the route at intervals and attempted to talk to passers-by. After a while the numbers were swelled to about 200, and then they all moved round to Lyham Road, at the back of C Wing, and created a noisy demonstration. A female voice shouted “Victory to……” and the rest of the crowd shouted “the IRA”. The occasion lasted about two hours.