Notorious gangster watched murders and inmates face melt off behind bars

A prisoner locked up in some of the UK's most notoriously-strict jails has lifted the lid on the spine-chilling acts of violence he witnessed during his time behind bars.

Stephen Gillen, who developed a reputation as a hard-nosed gangster in his younger years, spent almost 20 years caged in maximum-security prisons after a childhood marred by death – he saw someone die in front of him when he was just seven years old.

Gillen's childhood trauma without a support network paved the way for his emergence as a hard-man and East End gang boss who "cheated death 100 times" in terrifying turf wars.

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At the age 22, in 1993, he was jailed for attempted robbery and firearms offences which saw him serve almost 17 years in Category A prisons up and down the country.

Now reformed and aged 51, Gillen exclusively spoke to the Daily Star about some of the violence he witnessed.

He said: "I wasn’t part of it, but I saw a couple of people murdered in prison.

"These places – dispersal prisons – were extremely violent.

"They were high-security prisons with notorious people, 'lifers', people doing long sentences who don’t have a future."

One particularly horrific instance occurred at Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire in 1998.

Gillen said: "Just the way it is, the kind of characters you have there… I see one kid – it was disgusting – a Colombian kid, late 20s, he was a drug mule or dealer, he got himself in trouble.

"These people would take drugs in there. There was a fallout. I watched these two men, who were on drugs themselves, who would do anything to get a little bit of drugs.

"They got this young kid into the kitchen bit of the wing. He didn’t speak a lot of English, this Colombian kid, bless him.

"One of them distracted this kid, and when he was looking down, the other man poured a whole pot of boiling oil on his head.

"I have never seen anything like that. I will never forget it.

"Because people don’t scream straight away. They just can’t with the shock of it.

"But then about 10 seconds later, that’s when it comes. I just saw this man’s face melt. All his looks, everything gone.

"That was uncalled for, it was a terrible thing to do. The proper people on the wings are not having that. They want some kind of etiquette."

Gillen says Wakefield, Winson Green and Leeds were some of the worst prisons he experienced.

"A lot of prisons would not want you with staff," he said.

"They were very cautious and wary of us. The flagship prisons and segregation units would have picked staff who would be ready and waiting for you."

Prisoners committing violent acts against fellow inmates has been an issue facing the prison service for years. Footage from Sky News aired in 2016 showed evidence of shocking fights and extreme bullying taking place in prisons across the country.

As reported by Sky News, the Prison Officers' Association cited cuts in staff numbers that "left too few officers to properly supervise many jails."

Gillen who is now on a mission to help others said: "I know prison has its real challenges, such as funding, containment, laws and much more.

"Although there are initiatives that try to rehabilitate prisoners into good human beings who can give to the world and create, rather than take and destroy, there’s not enough of it.

"All of these things together make for more challenges and more problems in the prison system.

"I know this because I am working on another initiative by two ex-prison officers who have been successful and have been funded by the Home Office and have been recognised.

"It’s an immense job. Even with the amount of taxpayers' money that is thrown at it, all the trauma, all the people getting damaged – this money could be better spent with clever initiatives that make a difference."

A key focus of Gillen's work since his release from prison is philanthropy; he set up the Stephen Gillen Foundation which now collaborates with and supports other charity projects.

To find out more information about Stephen Gillen visit his website.

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