Italian cheese and British porridge do not mix

AN ITALIAN cheese-making plant at a women's prison, which was the pride of the new, commercially minded managers of the Home Office prison department, is losing money while polluting local waterways with lumps of mozzarella and ricotta.

The trouble at the mozzarella factory at East Sutton Park prison near Maidstone, Kent, which opened amid great publicity last year, has led to a row at the Home Office. Derek Lewis, a television executive and keen supporter of jail privatisation who was appointed by the Conservatives as Director General of the Prison Service, is refusing to accept criticisms of the plant from Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

In a report this week, the judge will condemn the cramped and unwholesome conditions for the women prisoners who work in the factory and point out that accumulated losses are rising.

The judge is not Mr Lewis's only problem. A spokeswoman for the National Rivers Authority said cheese was passing from the plant through the prison's sewage works, to a small lake and into the River Beult. 'We're not happy with the level of fatty, cheesy substances getting into the river,' she said.

The plant was the idea of Edgardo Pasquali, an Italian businessman who now lives in Brighton. He suggested using 12,000 litres of milk a day from the prison farm dairy herd for milk and training prisoners to be cheese-makers.

But he is now threatening legal action against the Home Office for 'stealing' his concept. He says he played a central role in setting up the factory and brought over Italian master cheese-makers to act as advisers but, after a dispute, he was frozen out of the mozzarella operation.