Bedford Prison security called into question after journalist gets inside without checks

Bedford prison
HMP Bedford

The Justice Secretary says he is seeking “urgent clarification” on prison security at HMP Bedford after an undercover journalist for The Times managed to get a job there without any security checks.

Paul Morgan-Bentley found what he says was a “shocking series of security lapses” at the prison on St Loyes St, including what staff called a “pandemic” of unlocked doors.

Hired in February through an agency as a prison contractor escort, often known as an operational support grade (OSG) escort, Mr Morgan-Bentley worked there for eight days.

He said staff are not put through a full vetting process unless they remain in post for more than three months.

The news comes just a few weeks after HM Inspector of Prisons issued a damning report into the conditions found at the prison.

Read: “Urgent action needed” as inspectors find squalid conditions, spiralling self-harm and violence at Bedford Prison

During his time there, he said on two of the days security equipment at the jail’s entrance was unmanned, and on other days staff had not been properly trained in how to use the equipment.

According to the MoJ, OSG escorts are subject to an abridged vetting process, including a check to make sure they have no criminal record, and they are not given keys for cell doors.

However, Mr Morgan-Bentley claims his name wasn’t even ‘googled’ and he was able to walk inside and interact with prisoners without even the most basic of searches, suggesting he could have brought anything into the prison to hand to inmates.

Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) has reacted angrily to failings found while Mr Morgan-Bentley was undercover.

In an email to the Bedford Independent, Mr Yasin said: “It is exasperating that, when all the stops are supposed to be being pulled out to improve conditions, we find serious security concerns have been documented by an undercover journalist.

“Prison officers at HMP Bedford are doing their best in an almost impossible situation, but many of them are inexperienced.

“It speaks to the crisis in our prison system which is over-populated and understaffed and under enormous strain that attempts to improve the situation are largely not working.

“We have a prison system, a probation system and a justice system on its knees after 14 years of Tory rule, but there should be no excuse for security failures in a prison.

“As part of the plans to improve HMP Bedford, the Justice secretary and the leadership team at Bedford must urgently get a grip on basic security systems.”

In a response to the media, the MoJ did confirm that the airport-style security at HMP Bedford is sometimes unmanned when staff are assigned to other duties.

They added that visitors and staff were still regularly and randomly searched when entering prison.

“The enhanced airport-style security in place at HMP Bedford and other closed jails is there solely due to this Government’s £100 million investment in tough new controls.

Including rolling out X-ray scanners, tightening staff searches and recruiting hundreds more drug detection dogs to make our prisons safer,” said an MoJ spokesperson.

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