Rosemary West is one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, and was convicted of the kinds of crimes that would cause the cast of Dateline to have night terrors. In 1995, she was sentenced to life in prison for murdering at least ten women, including her own stepdaughter. Two years later, her sentence was amended to a whole life tariff, ensuring that the then 43-year-old would never walk out of HM Prison Low Newton.
West has now spent more than two decades in the facility, but apparently she’s staying busy. According to the UK tabloid Daily Star, she recently baked a Victorian sponge cake that won a spur-of-the-moment bake-off in the F-wing kitchen. (Yes, she is allowed to use knives—as long as she’s being supervised). The judges of the competition were some of the other inmates, who surely didn’t vote for West because they were terrified of her.
“West uses her cooking skills to win people over,” an unnamed prison source said. “There are some very violent women on the wing and a lot of them are very aggressive towards West because of her crimes, but she tends to defuse situations by offering other prisoners cakes and biscuits.” (West may or may not have served herself a slice of her winning cake: the Star also reports that she has been warned about her health after her weight reached 250 pounds.)
This may sound ridiculous—if not completely unbelievable—but it’s not the first time that one of Her Majesty’s prisons have held in-house cooking competitions. In April, the Daily Mail reported that HM Prison Spring Hill would be holding periodic bake-offs to “improve relationships” between inmates. (There are also film nights and ‘cleanest hut’ competitions). “Spring Hill continues to successfully support prisoners prior to release—thus reducing their risk of reoffending,” a spokesperson said.
That spokesperson is probably right, especially when it comes to the rates of reoffending. Every year, the Clink charity trains several hundred prisoners in the culinary arts and provides other foodservice-related skills, with the hope that they will be able to get jobs in the hospitality industry after they are released.
it also operates inmate-staffed restaurants inside three prisons in England, and on the grounds of a prison in Cardiff, Wales. (The Clink also runs a bakery and cafe in Manchester that is run by graduates of its programs). According to the organization, its graduates are 49.6 percent less likely to reoffend than prisoners who did not take part in the program.
The current menu—which is prepared and served by inmates—at the four Clink restaurants includes a choice of rice pudding with pistachio praline and damson plum compote or a chocolate and pear tart with caramelized hazelnuts and a cocoa and lavender sorbet. Don’t tell Rosemary West, but that sounds so much better than sponge cake.