Rat-infested Bedford prison worst inspectors have ever seen, according to watchdog report

The report labelled the prison's conditions as 'unacceptable' Credit: PA

A rat-infested jail in Bedfordshire is among the 'worst' prison that inspectors have ever seen, according to a new and damning report.

Prisoners at HMP Bedford are described as living in squalid conditions at the Victorian jail, which is described as rife with violence and infested with rats and cockroaches.

The report, from HM Prison Inspectorate, said levels of violence remained "very high", with the number of assaults on staff "among the highest in the country".

Chief Insp Charlie Taylor writes that inmates "regularly see vermin" and have resorted to "creating their own barriers to prevent vermin from coming into their cells" amid unhygienic conditions on the prison wings.

Inspectors were particularly concerned about the rise in incidents of self-harm while there had been a “serious deterioration” in mental health services.

They also highlighted allegations of "direct racism by staff" as they warned discrimination incident reports were "poorly managed".

Last year Mr Taylor called for the category B prison, which can hold around 400 inmates, to be put into emergency measures.

He wrote to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk in November to issue an urgent notification for improvement when the inspection raised serious concerns about violence, living conditions and high rates of self-harm.

At the time, MPs in the Commons also heard how inmates slept with covers over their mouths to stop cockroaches crawling in.

Mr Taylor said the "neglected" jail needs "sustained support" in order to improve.

He said: "The smell of mould in one cell was overpowering, with the walls damp to the touch, while the underground segregation unit, which held acutely mentally unwell men, was a disgrace.

"If our prisons are truly going to protect the public, then they must be able to play their part in supporting men and women to move on from offending.

Governor Ali Barker, who had been in post since January 2023, had a "reasonable understanding of the many challenges facing the jail" but was "not visible enough" around the prison wings where conditions had deteriorated since the previous inspection in 2022, the report said.

Mr Taylor added: "While we left Bedford very concerned about the ongoing problems at the jail, there were many hardworking staff doing their best in difficult conditions.

"The governor and her team will need considerable support from the prison service to achieve what will be a difficult and lengthy transformation of a neglected prison."

A Prison Service spokesperson said: "The findings of this inspection are unacceptable which is why we’re taking urgent action to address the concerns raised.

"This includes deploying extra frontline officers to reduce violence and improve safety, undertaking refurbishments to improve living conditions, and ensuring offenders get greater access to the education and skills they need to turn their backs on crime."

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