CONCERNS have been raised for the welfare of staff and inmates at the Verne prison on Portland after boilers broke down, leaving parts of the building without heating and hot water for 'weeks'.

It has been claimed that inmates were left in conditions 'not fit for animals' for around three weeks.

The category C prison accommodates male convicted sex offenders inside a former Victorian military barracks and is also a major employer on the island.

After temperatures plummeted this month, welfare concerns were raised to the Echo about conditions inside the building.

One individual, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "I have a former colleague who is currently serving time at The Verne. He has written to me to say that the conditions in there are intolerable.

"There are four boilers for the whole site and they have all broken down; there has been no heat in some wings for three weeks and warm water runs out before noon. Prisoners have been given just one extra blanket - some are wearing four layers of clothes, hats and gloves 24/7. They are literally freezing to death.

"Because of the nature of their crimes there may not be huge sympathy but we do need to uphold basic human dignity."

Another individual said at the beginning of January: "I am reliably informed that the Verne prison has had no heating and at times no hot water for at least two weeks.

"Condensation is dripping off the ceilings and inmates are going to bed fully dressed. I thought we were a civilised country - animals would be kept better."

Councillor Paul Kimber, who represents Portland on Dorset Council, expressed concerns for staff and inmates.

“To have no heating for three weeks is completely out of order," he said. "Conditions inside the building must be humane not only for prisoners but for staff who are working under tremendous pressure at the moment with the current covid situation, plus having no heat - it is completely unacceptable to human dignity.

“Besides the obvious welfare concerns, the prison service also has a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure the building is properly maintained and fit for purpose – particularly given the age of the building.”

After the Echo contacted the Ministry of Justice with the concerns, a Prison Service spokesman responded by saying "a fault" has now been repaired and the heating and hot water restored.

No further explanation was given over the length of time it took to fix the issue - however the MOJ said prisoners were given extra blankets and portable heaters.

It comes after an Echo report in November revealed the sky-high cost to taxpayers of keeping prisoners at The Verne.

Ministry of Justice data showed that taxpayers were forking out around £110 per prisoner per day in 2019/20 - equivalent to £40,101 per year for each inmate.

With an average population of 539, it meant The Verne prison spent around £22 million keeping inmates behind bars during that period.