Belfast Telegraph

Lesbian lust and catfights in Belfast jail

Home to sinister killers as well as small-time crooks, one ex-prisoner reveals how a violent reputation - or a love affair - can help you get ahead in Hydebank jail

By Ali Gordon

Lesbian love affairs, bloody bust-ups and murderers being treated like royalty... welcome to life behind bars at Northern Ireland's only female jail.

Sunday Life lifts the lid on the secrets inside Hydebank Wood Women's Prison, home to notorious killers including Hazel Stewart, Lindsey White, Jacqueline Crymble, Karen Walsh and Margaret Henderson.

In a shocking interview, a former inmate, who we are only identifying as Brenda, claims prisoners believe "the rules are bent" for some of Northern Ireland's most dangerous criminals.

She also says that same-sex affairs are rampant inside the prison - and she says some women seek lesbian partners who will protect them.

"There are girls that come in there who you know wouldn't dream of it when they are at home, but they do it," said Brenda.

"They make out that they fancy each other - and obviously some of them do - but it's a dependency relationship.

"Some of the women have a certain degree of power in there among prisoners and if you're with someone like that, then that girl has got your back.

"One of the most feared women inmates has been with that many women in there you wouldn't believe it."

She also claims that some of the best-known jailbirds receive preferential treatment from staff.

"The high-profile prisoners you always hear about in the news are taken by the hand," the petty criminal told this newspaper.

"It makes for a really bad environment because the staff are telling us to stick by the rules, but I think there's no consistency with anything."

Brenda has served two stints in Hydebank for minor criminal offences.

She decided to speak out about her time in jail because she wants to highlight the plight of other inmates.

The Tyrone criminal, in her 40s, said that Hydebank was tough for "ODCs" (ordinary decent criminals) like her, but easy on prisoners serving much more serious sentences.

"The likes of Lindsey White and Maggie Henderson are still getting into trouble, so it's not fair that they get treated better," added Brenda, who insisted she had "no issues at all" with Henderson but claimed White viciously attacked her in jail some years ago.

White (29) is serving life for her role in the brutal murder and robbery of a homeless Polish man in Newry in 2009 in which she and accomplice Adrian Cunningham pocketed just 70p.

Thirty-one-year-old Henderson is serving just three years for tying up and killing pensioner Eddie Girvan at his Greenisland home in January 2016.

But Brenda said she "couldn't say a bad word about Hazel" Stewart who helped murder her husband Trevor Buchanan and lover Colin Howell's wife Lesley in 1991.

"She is so nice and supportive of other prisoners," added Brenda.

"She doesn't get involved in anything bad - she just gets on with things. Yes, she does have lots of privileges, but she deserves it because she doesn't put a foot wrong. That woman doesn't as much as look at a person the wrong way and I do believe she's genuine.

"If she doesn't like you, she doesn't bother with you, but she doesn't cause a scene.

"She goes out of her way to help people and she never judges others."

The ex-inmate told how Stewart kept herself busy while behind bars, but had been the cause of some jealousy.

"She goes to church every Sunday and even plays the guitar at the services," said Brenda. "She does a lot, like painting, baking and generally helping out, and she's very well-liked among prisoners and staff in general.

"The only people who don't like her are the ones that are jealous of her. She's very good-looking and has a great body and she really does look after herself.

"There's a gym you can go to every day if you're on her landing and she uses it a lot. The first time I was in Hydebank, six years ago, she was always painting or running laps of the football pitch. She never stopped. When I went back, it was just the same. She's a real worker, she really is."

While Hazel has remained tight-lipped about her horrifying crimes, Maggie 'Headbutt' Henderson has been open about her killing.

"Maggie isn't half as bad as people make her out to be - she's dead on and I never saw any hate directed at people by her, but if she didn't like something she would say," said Brenda.

"I heard a bit about what she had done (to Mr Girvan) and we all knew she was in for a killing and had got off quite light with it, but you would never ask anyone about what they were in for.

"You just take people at face value. If someone wants to tell you things then very good, but otherwise you'd get knocked out if you went looking for information.

"But prison humour isn't funny to me - it's so dark. I don't see how murdering someone is funny to anyone, but some of them do.

"Maggie never mentioned who she killed and I wouldn't ask, but she did make up a rap song about what she did. She was singing, 'I'm a murderer,' and would say things like 'Awk, I was good to him - I gave him a drink before he died'.

"She would also sing, 'Grant my last request and give me a drink of water,' (to the tune of Paolo Nutini's song Last Request)."

Brenda said killer Lindsey White had openly discussed her minimum 14-year life sentence.

"She's got all different versions of what happened (when she killed Marek Muszynski) - it changes with the wind," she added.

"One day she's not guilty and it's her that's been wronged, then the next day you'll hear her shouting, 'Do you know what I'm in for?' because she wants to act hard. Lindsey is allowed to do whatever she wants in there.

"I have a permanent scar from the last time I was in Hydebank because of her and it didn't take me long to realise that she hasn't changed much."

Brenda said Lindsey had struck up a friendship with ex-cop Eilish McSherry, who killed father-of-two Paul Mills in a car crash near Omagh in 2015.

McSherry, who was off duty at the time, had taken a high level of alcohol and prescription drugs before the fatal smash.

The pair are being held on Ash 2 landing, with aims of being moved to Ash 5, which is home to the likes of double-murderer Hazel Stewart and crucifix killer Karen Walsh.

In Ash 5, the jailbirds, who have enhanced prisoner status, are allowed to cook their own meals, have a vegetable patch, and can even work out in their own gym.

"Lindsey is now only one house away from being on the same level as Hazel, and that's a complete joke. She's still getting into fights and intimidating prisoners, especially the vulnerable ones," said Brenda.

"Over Christmas we played bingo and it was excruciating sitting over a table watching Lindsey White.

"We had Christmas dinner and everyone had worked so hard to try to make it nice, but there she was intimidating people. She won't change - she's just a bully."    

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