Prison officers picketing at under-fire prison HMP Bedford on Friday have told of the violence they have lived through.

A damning report from the prisons watchdog found a “complete breakdown” in order at the facility and the highest rates of assaults on staff in the country.

Richard Gilbert, an officer there for 14 years, described suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after being repeatedly kicked in the head by inmates.

The beating came in July 2016, he said, when he challenged a prisoner he suspected of possessing an illegal Sim card.

“I got pushed from behind, fell to the floor and a group started kicking me in the head,” he said.

He was left with concussion and remains on restricted duties, but the more persistent impact has been to his mental health.

“I’ve got PTSD and depression at the moment and I’m heavily medicated for that, and they’re looking to get me out of the service because I struggle to work with prisoners now.”

The timing of the attack was a significant one, he said, with that year seeing a freefall in safety due to staffing cuts and a rise in the use of new psychoactive substances.

At 42, the father-of-three faces a medical inefficiency dismissal and a struggle to find a new career.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ben Blunt, a 20-year-old who works in operational support.

During his 13 months in the role, he says he has been attacked up to seven times – a rate of once every seven weeks.

Mr Blunt, who lacks the self-defence training of a fully-qualified officer, told how he was seized by an inmate during one attack and was unable to raise the alarm.

“He grabbed my hands through the bars, pulled me towards him and started spitting and scratching at my hands,” he said.

“I was stuck, I couldn’t pull my alarm because the radio was on my side. It was an awful experience and shouldn’t happen.

“I’ve thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back.”

Both men said their attackers have never been brought to justice for those offences.

Brian Cooper, their branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), detailed further serious assaults, including a pool cue attack and one colleague who permanently lost the full-use of an eye because of a fractured eye socket.

“We’ve got the highest rate of assault of any prison in the country and the management are just not dealing with it,” he said.

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