Crumbling, overcrowded and rat-infested, Wandsworth Prison is a world away from the luxurious lifestyle Boris Becker once enjoyed.
This squalid 170-year-old Victorian edifice, crammed with more than 1,300 inmates, is regularly described as one of the UK’s worst jails.
A report this year by Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, revealed a jail blighted by drug abuse and mental health problems, where ‘desperately bored’ inmates spend more than 22 hours a day in dilapidated cells.
One group of inmates was described as walking ‘blinking into the sunlight’ after more than a week indoors.
Violence is an acute problem, with almost one attack every day among inmates in 2020/21. Prison staff used force 1,295 times during the same period, or nearly four times a day.
This is the bleak and dehumanising environment that greeted a stunned Becker, 54, on Friday afternoon.
This squalid 170-year-old Victorian edifice, crammed with more than 1,300 inmates, is regularly described as one of the UK’s worst jails. A two man cell is seen above
His first night at ‘Wanno’ – as HMP Wandsworth is known by its inmates – is likely to have been terrifying
A report this year by Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, revealed a jail blighted by drug abuse and mental health problems, where ‘desperately bored’ inmates spend more than 22 hours a day in dilapidated cells
This is the bleak and dehumanising environment that greeted a stunned Becker, 54, on Friday afternoon. Pictured: HM Wandsworth Prison’s central rotunda
Boris Becker and his partner Lilian de Carvalho are seen arriving at Southwark Crown Court in London for sentencing on 29 April
Prison sources say the tennis star is likely to spend up to a fortnight at the Category B jail before he is moved to a lower security Category C jail.
After being sentenced at Southwark Crown Court shortly before 4pm, Becker, his belongings in a Puma holdall, was led to a prison van for the 45-minute drive through South London to the prison, less than two miles from Wimbledon’s Centre Court – where Becker won his first of three Wimbledon titles in 1985 aged just 17.
After waiting in a reception area, the six-time Grand Slam champ is likely to have been told to strip and then searched for weapons or contraband.
Becker will then have been interviewed to assess the risk of suicide or self-harm, before being led to a cell on E-Wing, where new prisoners stay during a three-day induction.
If he got there by 7.30pm he may have had time for a shower. If not, he faced waiting another 24 hours.
His first night at ‘Wanno’ – as HMP Wandsworth is known by its inmates – is likely to have been terrifying.
The brutal realities of life inside the jail were exposed two years ago by ex-prisoner Chris Atkins in a book serialised by The Mail on Sunday.
Mr Atkins, a Bafta-winning film-maker sentenced to five years in 2016 for a tax scam, called it ‘one of the most notorious jails in the country’.
‘The first thing that hits me is the noise,’ he wrote about his arrival there in July 2016.
‘Yelling, banging, screaming, grunting, barking, threatening, ranting, laughing, whining, arguing, fighting, howling, crying. It’s as if someone has downloaded every single sound effect and is blaring them all out at once. The reception wing looks like it last had a makeover in 1895 when Oscar Wilde was here… jailed for homosexuality.
‘It’s basically Porridge meets One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and is full of the most terrifying individuals I have ever seen.’
Becker has been given his own cell, but he is likely to be moved to a shared one this week, a prison source said. It will be 6ft by 12ft with a concrete floor and a toilet with no seat or privacy curtain.
The mattresses on the bunks are made from blue plastic so bodily fluids can be cleaned up easily.
Mr Atkins said inmates ‘mostly appear to be either severely mentally ill, off their heads on drugs, or both’.
He added: ‘What do they do all day? Smoke spice and watch Cash In The Attic on TV.’ For most, the day begins at 7.45am. Those who are employed will work, often as kitchen workers and cleaners. For the rest, most of the day is spent ‘banged up’ in their cells.
Becker has been given his own cell, but he is likely to be moved to a shared one this week, a prison source said. It will be 6ft by 12ft with a concrete floor and a toilet with no seat or privacy curtain. His daughter Anna Ermakova (pictured right) said it wasn’t fair that he was jailed for two and a half years for bankruptcy
Mr Taylor found that the prison’s education block had sat unused since March 2020 and ‘gym sessions were regularly cancelled’.
The food is believed to be better than in other jails, with more than half of inmates saying their meals were good in a recent survey.
However, overcrowding means that evening meals are simply left outside cell doors and the trolleys used to transport the food are ‘filthy’, according to Mr Taylor.
If Becker is lucky he will be moved to H-Wing, dubbed ‘The Ritz’ by the white-collar inmates locked up there. Despite this, it only has six showers for 86 cells, most of which have two inmates.
The tennis star may get extra perks if he becomes a listener – those trained by the Samaritans to support other inmates to reduce self-harm and suicide rates. Listeners are eligible for larger cells.
However, when Mr Atkins was a listener, an inmate told him to sing a song, ‘or I’ll slit your throat’.
He said last night that although Becker will be ‘terrified’ there were ways to avoid trouble.
He added: ‘Wandsworth is a very violent prison, but if you keep your head down and don’t get involved in drugs and debt and all the politics of the wings it is not actually that dangerous. Just stay out of the way. I’d just say chin up and it’s not going to be as bad as you think it’s going to be.
‘In prison, sport is massive for the prisoners and the officers alike. They are all going to see him as a bit of a hero. He is probably going to be inundated with people wanting his autograph.’
‘Stay strong Dad… I’m on my way’: The emotional cry from daughter of shamed tennis star Boris Becker as he endures first nights at rat-infested jail
By Jake Ryan for Mail on Sunday
The love-child daughter of shamed tennis legend Boris Becker has vowed to stand by her father and visit him in jail ‘whenever I can’.
Anna Ermakova, 22, who was born after Becker’s liaison with a Russian model at London’s Nobu restaurant, said she was in shock at her father being handed a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for breaking Insolvency Act laws.
She told German TV she hoped he would be ‘strong in this difficult time’, adding: ‘I’m really in shock that my father has been sentenced to two years and six months. I will support him and I will visit him whenever I can. I hope that will help a bit to get through the time.’
In a separate interview in which she referred to Becker’s son Amadeus, Miss Ermakova said: ‘I wrote a letter to the court to express my concern for my little half-brother, Amadeus.
‘After all, he is only 12 and will now have to do without a father figure, whom he will lack during a difficult phase of his development. It’s not fair to him. It’s going to be tough for Amadeus.’
Anna Ermakova, 22, (pictured on the left) who was born after Becker’s liaison with a Russian model at London’s Nobu restaurant, said she was in shock at her father being handed a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for breaking Insolvency Act laws
Becker was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday before being taken to rat-infested Wandsworth prison, barely two miles from Centre Court at Wimbledon where the German won three men’s singles titles. He is expected to be moved to a lower-security prison within a few weeks and may serve only ten months if officials decide he can be released halfway through his sentence and spend four months wearing an electronic tag.
Becker, 54, who carved out a successful TV career as a pundit after quitting tennis, also faces being stripped of his honorary membership of the All England Tennis Club. Officials are understood to be angry that he wore a club tie to his sentencing appearance. His work in the future for Eurosport and the BBC is also in jeopardy.
Yesterday, his second wife Lily Becker, from whom he separated in 2018, offered support. Quoting from the book of Psalms, she said: ‘The Lord is your shepherd,’ adding: ‘I will always pray for you!’
Wandsworth Prison, where Boris Becker is expected to spend the duration of his prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud
Becker’s legal team argued that the father of four, who won six Grand Slam titles, had suffered enough since being declared bankrupt in June 2017, owing creditors almost £50 million.
But noting his previous conviction in Germany over a £1.4 million tax evasion for which he received a two-year suspended sentence, Judge Deborah Taylor said: ‘You did not heed the warning…and the chance you were given by the suspended sentence and that is a significant aggravating factor.’
Becker was convicted of moving £390,000 from a business account to others including those of his ex-wife and then partner and failing to declare his share in a £1 million property in Germany or a bank loan of £700,000 and £66,000 of shares in a tech firm.
Miss Ermakova was conceived in a broom cupboard in Nobu restaurant in Park Lane a few minutes after Becker first met her mother Angela Ermakova in 1999.
Former player and fellow pundit John Lloyd, who worked as a Wimbledon commentator for the BBC with Becker, yesterday paid tribute to him as a ‘great champion’ and a generous colleague but said ‘there will now always be an asterisk by his name’.
Lloyd added: ‘Whenever people talk of Boris Becker, they will follow it by saying: ‘Oh, but didn’t he then go to prison?’ It will follow him wherever he goes. He has made a terrible mistake and now he’s got to live with the consequences.’