A drone has been used in a daring night-time attempt to smuggle drugs and weapons into a high security jail.
The plan was only thwarted when the machine became entangled in razor wire on a security wall and was then spotted by staff at Bedford Prison.
It is the first known case of a remote-controlled aircraft being used to infiltrate a British jail.
The Chinese-made machine was carrying a package containing drugs, mobile phones, screwdrivers and a knife.
Prison staff spotted it on the razor wire and managed to retrieve it.
One theory is that the ‘pilot’ planned to direct the drone to a spot where it could hover outside a cell window.
A prisoner might then have been able to reach out and grab the illicit cargo.
The miniature aircrafts are already a major concern to police, who want to be given powers to seize them if they suspect they are being misused.
The one flown into Bedford Prison two weeks ago was a DJI Phantom 2 Vision, which weighs just 2.5lbs but has a range of nearly half a mile.
The device is fitted with a wide-angle camera and can be bought online or at an electrical retailer for around £900.
A Bedfordshire Police spokesman said: ‘We were called to reports that a small drone had been discovered alongside a package at HMP Bedford at 11.30pm on March 6.
‘Both the device and the contents of the package are currently being examined and investigations are on-going.’
The jail can contain around 500 inmates.
A recent report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons said the main challenge facing staff was the prevention of ‘the inward trafficking of unauthorised items, including mobile telephones and illegal drugs’.
Adam Bailey, of the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, said: ‘It’s a pretty stupid way of trying to get stuff into a prison.
‘A drone sounds like a swarm of bees and has flashing lights so you’re likely to attract attention. You’d have to be very skilled to pull this off and these guys clearly weren’t.’
A possible rehearsal for the drone’s flight may have taken place a month ago.
Farhat Erdogan, who works in a Londis store close to the site, said he thought two men had been involved.
Mr Erdogan, 29, said: ‘I saw these guys in their 30s with a drone and wondered what they were doing.
‘They were standing near traffic lights a couple of hundred yards from the prison. I watched as they sent the drone up into the air.’
Shop worker Paddy Pain, 22, said a friend serving a sentence at the jail had been offered money by fellow inmates to accept a delivery of banned substances.
And Sonya Minney, 55, chief officer of the Bedford Guild House charity, which backs on to the prison, said: ‘Staff have recently covered up the cell windows that face outwards to prevent stuff being thrown in.
‘We often hear the police helicopter and sometimes they patrol the perimeter with sniffer dogs but we’ve never seen a drone.’ Drones have been widely used in the United States and Canada to fly drugs into penal institutions and in October a miniature helicopter packed with pills crashed into a net guarding the exercise yard of a jail in Ireland.
Phantom Vision devices are small enough to fit into the corner of a suitcase and manufacturer DJI claims they can fly for up to 50 minutes if fitted with an extra battery.
There have been no arrests in connection with the Bedford incident yet. Police have appealed for information.
A Prison Service spokesman said that the package had been ‘quickly intercepted by vigilant staff’.