Whatever your opinion may be about rats, two things can be agreed upon universally: they are extremely clever and very resilient. The British Pest Control Association has reported an increase in rodent sightings of more than 41%. Alarmingly, everincreasing reports from POA members working at HMPPS establishments have highlighted a steady increase in serious rodent infestations in the UK’s prisons. Damaged drains, badly maintained and unfit-for-purpose fittings, and a change in meals arrangements during, and a continuation after, Covid lockdown can only aid the survival of these horrifying and yet somehow admirable creatures. Unless senior management teams across the estate take sensible and serious precautions, rats and mice will make merry and will only increase in number.

From April 2022 until March 2023, there was a serious rodent infestation issue at HMP Sudbury. A steady stream of sightings were reported. Throughout spring and into summer, numbers of rodents within the establishment ballooned: a staff member was bitten by a rat, and shortly after two incidents of rats biting prisoners were reported. In July, during a meeting with management and the POA, the SMT asked for a period of one month to resolve the issue.

The POA Committee at Sudbury diligently worked with and maintained a dialogue with management, something which is an essential when dealing with management and union relations. After a two-month period, the rat infestation was increasing further, so much so that sightings of rats in daylight hours became commonplace.

It was decided that the committee needed to escalate the issue so that a decent environment for our members and prisoners could be restored.

So, what was our plan? First, the committee made the SMT at Sudbury aware of our intention to escalate the matter to an appropriate authority. During September, the environmental health department of the district council was informed of the seriousness of the infestation. The local authority then contacted the establishment about the complaint and the environmental health department was told that measures were in place to deal with the issue, metal waste bins had been purchased and baiting was under way.

Summer dragged into autumn and moved into winter, and no metal waste bins had arrived. The rats continued to gnaw through plastic wheelie binds to feast on refuse and their numbers escalated out of control. Rats were seen around the establishment in groups as large as 20 at a time.

The committee urged POA members to report any sightings via the Planet FM system in order to help deal with this unacceptable situation.

During the first two weeks of October, I reported in 35 sightings of rats ranging from a single animal to as many as 20. As a result, it was decided that our constituency MP should be contacted and told of the issue. MP was very proactive and wrote to the establishment, which only gave momentum to the SMT’s endeavours. Still the number of rats remained at a very high level.

Councillors from the Derbyshire Dales District Council (DDDC) were told of the issue and were asked to lobby the environmental health department at council meetings to find out what action was being taken. The POA too again contacted the environmental health department expressing further concern, as by now, the rat population was even gaining access to cars in the prison car park.

Despite the situation, it took until 10 January 2023 for members of the district environmental health team to arrange an inspection at the establishment, to see what measures had been taken to eradicate the rats. Once they understood the issues being faced, they worked with the SMT at Sudbury to devise a seven-week plan to finally solve the issue.

Two days after the visit by DDDC officials, the first 20 metal wheelie bins appeared on site, followed by HERAS fencing to cordon off areas to allow for baiting to take place around the site. The seven-week plan worked and by March 2023 the rat population had all but vanished.

We will probably never find out why the fencing and the metal wheelie bins arrived so soon after the inspection or why further such bins turned up in May 2023. We will never know why it took until January 2023 for a seven-week plan to be implemented to eradicate the rodent infestation and not in September 2022 when the environmental health department had received numerous complaints from members of the public alongside the 177 sightings of rats I reported between September 2022 and January 2023 via Planet FM. We will also never know why grievances and counter-corruption intelligence reports submitted regarding the management of the serious rat infestation, were sidelined and not dealt with.

However, we can be very much safe in the knowledge that during the autumn and winter of 2022, POA members at HMP Sudbury had to work in totally unacceptable working conditions that seriously affected the mental wellbeing of some and exacerbated ongoing mental illness issues in others.

We can also be assured in the knowledge that HMPPS has a legal duty to report any serious rat infestation to the appropriate authority under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 and deal promptly in eradicating infestations. HMPPS has a duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to provide us with a safe and decent working environment. Let us hope that the national increase of rodent sightings reporting will, in future, be dealt with quickly and effectively. l

Russell Lane
Health and Safety Representative
POA Sudbury Branch

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.