An inmate at Bedford Prison caught and killed rats in his cell during an inspection

The chief inspector of prisons says standards at HMP Bedford have continued to decline despite two years of internal prison service efforts to improve it

The report described cells as "filthy and decrepit", and said toilets did not flush properly.

The scale of the violence, squalor and lack of control is set out in a report on the unannounced inspection in August and September 2018

Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, found no credible plans by the prison or HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to address the prison's "dangerous shortcomings".

So troubling were the findings of an inspection in 2018 that Mr Clarke took the rare step of invoking the "urgent notification" protocol, requiring the Secretary of State for Justice to respond publicly with an improvement action plan.

Violent prisoners faced few effective sanctions, the report said, adding that use of force by staff, including baton use, had risen significantly and was "exceptionally high".

Pest control work had failed to eradicate significant rat infestation, one notice on a door said "Please ensure doors remain shut to prevent rats entering the wing!!!" Conditions in the segregation unit were described as "appalling"

"This inspection found that the prison has continued on a seemingly inexorable decline that is evident through the results of the four inspections carried out since 2009. It used to have a reputation as a good local prison, and the collapse in standards is as sad as it is inexcusable."

Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons

"Bedford has faced significant challenges since the 2016 riot and we knew that its performance was not acceptable. That's why we had already reduced prisoner numbers, set out an improvement plan and provided extra, external support. We have not ignored previous recommendations, but pressures on the prison meant that progress had been difficult. Since the inspection, we have reduced prisoner numbers further, improved cleanliness and strengthened the management team to provide greater support to staff who the chief inspector acknowledges were committed but inexperienced. We have also appointed a new, more experienced governor to spearhead this work and accelerate improvements."

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service

I take the inspectorate's findings very seriously. I visited Bedford prison last week to follow up on the recommendations in the report. I'm glad to say that there has been significant progress at Bedford to make it safer and more decent. But we have more to do. Increased security is in place to help reduce drug use, and violence in turn, and inexperienced staff are now being better supported and given extra training to ensure the prison runs effectively.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart

Bedford was assessed as "poor" in the areas of safety, respect and purposeful activity and "not sufficiently good" in rehabilitation and release planning.