Undercover reporter hired to work in jail with no vetting 'shocked by lack of security and open drug-taking'

28 March 2024, 09:34

HMP Bedford
HMP Bedford. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

An undercover reporter who was allowed to work in a prison with no vetting has revealed his shocking experiences on the job.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Paul Morgan-Bentley, an investigative journalist at the Times, worked at HMP Bedford for eight days as a contractor escort.

Even though he wasn't a fully-fledged prison guard, within a few days on the job - which he began a few weeks after first applying - he was given keys to much of the category B facility and had open access to inmates.

He told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "The vetting was extraordinary because there wasn't proper prison staff vetting... what we found was by going by applying through an agency, I didn't have to have the vetting the people usually have",

Recruiters did carry out a criminal record check. "But they clearly hadn't Googled my name," Mr Morgan-Bentley said. "I didn't make an attempt to disguise who I was... it's very easy when you Google my name to see the type of work I do.

"But we intentionally didn't try and disguise it, because that was part of the issue, how poor the vetting was. And less than three weeks after applying, I was inside the jail. And then training was just a few hours on the first day."

Read more: 'Bed and breakfast' short jail terms cost £50,000 a year per inmate and should be scrapped, Justice Secretary says

Read more: Hundreds of prison officers quit within one year as prison service operates 'fanciful' Zoom recruitment process

Paul Morgan-Bentley explains how he was hired by an agency without thorough checks

On two of the eight days he was in the job, the security checks to get into the prison were extremely lax, and he was able to get in without anyone checking whether he had illicit items in his pockets.

That meant that he could have smuggled drugs or weapons into the prison easily, he said.

"It was the lack of security at the front door, and I don't know if I was naive beforehand, but I always assumed that the prison security would be as tight if not more than airports."

HMP Bedford
HMP Bedford. Picture: Getty

He said there was airport-style security at the airport.

"But I worked there for eight days, and on two of those days, when I arrived in the mornings for my shift, there was literally no one on those security scanners.

"So I just walked straight through. And if you can imagine it, there were the trays that you you have at airports, but no one was picking them up and putting their belongings in them, because the baggage scanner wasn't switched on.

"And there was no one there manning the scanners and I walked straight through the arch scanner.

"It beeps because I had things in my pockets like keys, but no one noticed because no one was there, and I walked straight through - and then I could get the keys to areas including prisoner wings.

HMP Bedford
HMP Bedford. Picture: Getty

"And later on in the day I was inches from prisoners."

Mr Morgan-Bentley also told of how builders were allowed to work very close to prisoners, with tools out in the open - potentially leaving them open to being stolen and used in fights.

One prisoner even asked him if he could have the tools, to which he said no, politely.

He also said that prisoners were smoking cannabis or a similar drug openly in the prison, and the smell was very obvious.

HMP Bedford was recently given a damning inspection report from the prisons watchdog, that found it was filthy and very violent. The prison has been put on urgent notification to improve in a year.

HMP Bedford
HMP Bedford. Picture: Getty

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “This reporter was employed briefly as a temporary agency worker at HMP Bedford with restricted access and duties limited to escorting prison contractors, but the Lord Chancellor is seeking urgent clarification from the Prison Service that the vetting process for such workers is appropriate.”

“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.”

A spokeswoman for Hays, the agency he worked for, said: “Despite procedure being followed in this case, we will be conducting a review of our recruitment process for the supply of these types of roles.”

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Elections 2024 Media Debates

News organisations urge Joe Biden and Donald Trump to agree to debates

Survivors of the attack are set to sue MI5

Hundreds of survivors of Manchester Arena bombing to sue MI5

The UK is set to experience some warm, dry weather

Two-week period when Brits to bask in warm, dry weather revealed, after cold period ahead

Lennix died after being hit by a car on Saturday

Parents of 'bubbly and kind' boy, 8, killed in crash while riding scooter on quiet Wiltshire road, pay tribute to son

The Israeli Iron Dome air defence system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran

Israel hails ‘success’ in blocking Iran’s unprecedented attack

Damien Guerot stepped in in Sydney

Builder who wielded bollard to defend children from rampaging Sydney knifeman says attacker's 'eyes were empty'

The IDF said over 300 weapons were fired by Iran.

Israel approves plan of attack after foiling massive Iran onslaught, as world leaders call for 'stabilisation'

The G7 have condemned the Iran attack on Israel

G7 leaders condemn Iran's 'unprecedented' attack on Israel and say they 'stand ready to take further measures'

Russia Ukraine War

More civilians die in Ukraine amid warning US aid delays will hamper Kyiv forces

The minibus lying on its side

Seventeen rushed to hospital after bus carrying football fans overturns on motorway in multiple car smash

Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy and Paloma Faith join celebrities demanding Government act over Sudan

Dawn Singleton was among six victims of the stabbings

Victim of Sydney stabbings 'bought wedding dress days earlier' and was preparing to send out invitations

The IDF said over 300 weapons were fired by Iran.

Israel says Iran conflict 'not over' and vows to 'collect a price when timing is right', as US urges restraint

Poland Abortion

Polish opponents of abortion march against recent steps to liberalise strict law

A boy, 8, was killed in the incident.

Boy, 8, dies after crash on quiet Wiltshire cul-de-sac

Five of the six victims from the stabbing have been named.

Victims of Sydney stabbings named as heartbroken tributes flood in following attack by knifeman who killed six