Meet Breaking into Prison presenter Livvy Haydock, BBC3’s new fearless filmmaker

She’s a Dagenham-based blonde with a spray tan, who hangs out with gangs in the most murderous cities in the world and rides along with drug dealers supplying UK prisons

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Livvy Haydock is in the passenger seat of a drug dealer’s car, hurtling down a residential road at speed, with a considerable amount of cannabis beside her.

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This is just another day of filming for the 31-year-old, in the process of making a new documentary for BBC3 called Breaking into Prison. The short film follows Haydock as she investigates how contraband like drugs, phones and weapons make their way inside jails. It’s punchy, sweary, and offers a real insight into the black market that exists behind bars, often made possible by corrupt “screws” – prison guards – who act as mules themselves.

In barely 20 minutes of footage, Breaking into Prison sees Haydock in a variety of compromising positions: in a tunnel with a man who’s “on tag” for kidnapping (among other offences) and watching a dealer wrap up cannabis in his home – “HMP’s finest, that is”.

Past exploits have seen her travel to the Congo for an Al Jazeera documentary about child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as making an entire series called Drugs, Inc. which looks at the trade on an international scale. She’s also worked with Ross Kemp, who she says is “the real deal” and has a massive following in Memphis, “in the hood”.

Aside from Breaking into Prison, which premieres today on BBC3, Haydock is also making two more short films for the channel – about girls in gangs and migrants finding illegal work – with Antidote Productions, who she worked with behind the camera on BBC3’s Professor Green: Dangerous Dogs.

We caught up with Haydock to find out about what really goes on inside Britain’s prisons, what it’s like to work in such extreme situations, and her most shocking moments while filming…

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Why did you decide to make a documentary about contraband in prisons?

It’s such a big issue now. One of my biggest concerns is that it’s changing the environment inside prisons. Everyone goes to prison for a reason but I feel like it’s not fair on people who are trying to serve time for petty crimes, as they can get caught up in this whole other culture of bullying and debt because of drugs and mobile phones.

How did you convince drug dealers to speak to you?

From working on crime documentaries, I’ve set myself up a network of contacts. I build trust, maintain contact and spend time with them. And I always make it clear that I’m not there to catch them out. I think it’s a case of “better the devil you know”. Also, we’re subtle. While it’s best to have the crew there if I can, if the person I’m interviewing is actually doing something illegal, then we have to be discreet and sometimes that means going on my own and not making a song and dance about it.

Do people say no a lot, and refuse to participate?

Yes. A lot! Also, people I have lined up often change their minds and then I’ve got to find someone else and go through the whole process again. The people I interview live outside of the law, so they don’t live by normal hours and it’s always stupid o’clock at night when we talk.

What are you hoping the impact of the documentary will be? 

I want to raise awareness among the friends and family of the people inside, the people who are helping get the contraband in. I think there will be a lot more crime within prison that will impact the outside world – already there have been murders, and international drug smuggling rings that have been organised from within the prison walls.

You’ve spoken before about how your blonde hair and spray tan might be different from what people would expect as a hardcore filmmaker…

That’s just the way I am. I have a lot more in common with regular people than lots of TV types, I tend to blend in with the people I interview a lot more. I’m not coming from a conservative place. I think the fact that I’m in trainers and a hoodie helps. But I’ve got work in the Philippines coming up and I’m like, “Hmm, what do I wear?” On the one hand I don’t want to look too provocative and girly, but on the other I don’t want to make out like I’m some kind of GI Jane… because I’m definitely not.

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In terms of documentary makers, most household names are male: Louis Theroux, Ross Kemp, Reggie Yates… Do you meet many women in the industry and do you think there should be more?

There are women – they’re just not necessarily on camera. They’re producing [Laughs]. So actually the women are often the ones who’ve gone in first and set it all up. Stacey Dooley, though, is doing incredible things. It’s always nice to see more women on camera that aren’t your classic newsreaders, but normal people.

What’s the most shocking thing that’s happened to you while filming?

I’ve got a weird one. Nasty weird. I was filming all day in Kingston, Jamaica, for a documentary about drug gangs. There was a guy following us around and being suggestive and creepy. When I’m on someone else’s turf, I’m conscious that I can’t just say “f*** off” like I would in London. When we left and said goodbye I thought, “Oh god he’s going to try and hug me… oh no, wait, he wants to kiss me,” and then he just bit me on the face. He bit me really hard on my left cheek. It left a big red bite mark on my face for the rest of the day. And that’s when I went south London on him. I went loopy, I just screamed at him. I was like, “Why did you bite me, man? You can’t do that!” And with that we kind of just said “seeya” and left.

Another time, in Sudan, we arrived just after a man had been shot. He started having a fit. It was so horrid to film, and I got quite told off because I was like “30 seconds, okay done it”, but I was told “Nope, film it properly”, and it just felt horrible because this guy’s friends – the other soldiers – were there and he was just not in a good way, bless him. It was that awful thing of filming something that’s really horrid to film but you have to show it. It was distressing. And then not knowing what happened to him afterwards. It was a big learning curve, that one.

You’ve undergone hostile environment training – what does that entail exactly?

South London is the best training I’ve had to be honest [Laughs]. No, I’m kidding, but the one I did before I went off with Al Jazeera was an amazing course: you’re running around the woods getting kidnapped and carjacked. It is so much fun. I really think stag dos should do it. It does scare you as well though… it’s role play but it really really does freak you out. It knocks out any kind of cockiness. I was so paranoid for weeks afterwards. It also teaches you how to treat gunshot wounds, and to walk away if things get uncomfortable. Don’t push it. It won’t ever turn out well.

Compared with the situations you’ve been in and the places you’ve filmed, does real life seem dull?

The opposite. This work makes you crave and appreciate normality. So I went and got a dog and a boyfriend. I love the work though because I meet people I’d never meet otherwise.

What’s the documentary you dream about making?

I’d love to look into miscarriages of justice in the 90s. Police corruption and that. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with it. I’ve developed contacts to do with that from work I’ve done in the past.

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Breaking into Prison is on BBC3 from today – you can also watch the full film below