Swastika displayed by prison officers in reception area: Black inmate complained to MP about 'appalling trophy'. Heather Mills reports

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PRISON OFFICERS at one of Britain's newest prisons have been confronting new inmates with Nazi paraphernalia, fuelling concern over extreme right-wing influence among pockets of prison staff.

Displayed on a wall in the reception area of Holme House prison, Cleveland, was a black cap, its peak embroidered with a white swastika, a skull and crossbones and the SS flash.

Now a row has broken out after it emerged that the two officers who admitted displaying the hat have only been given an 'oral warning' for 'an in-house joke'. Last night Bernie Grant, Labour MP for Tottenham, called for the officers' dismissal. 'This should be a sackable offence. It is a matter of grave concern that black prisoners will have to continue to have contact with these officers who have so openly displayed their racism.

'What is also very worrying is that we know that in the past, prisons have been good recruiting ground for the National Front.'

An inquiry into the deaths of black patients at Ashworth top security psychiatric hospital, Merseyside, found evidence of organised racism among members of the Prison Officers' Association.

The Holme House incident came to light after Dennis Stafford, a black prisoner at the jail, complained to the prison governor and contacted Mr Grant.

Mr Stafford said: 'On entering the prison I was confronted with the most appalling trophy anybody would expect to find in a government establishment . . . Neither would the most humorous person accept this abomination as a joke - especially with the ugly head of the BNP surfacing again.'

In a letter to Mr Grant, Derek Lewis, the director-general of the Prison Service, said: 'The governor was satisfied that there was no deliberate intent of racial abuse or racial harassment on the part of either officer.

'The officers maintained that the matter was intended as an in-house joke which had gone too far, but accepted that the 'joke' was in extremely poor taste, and that their behaviour was totally unacceptable under the terms of the Prison Service race relations policy.'

On paper, the Prison Service has an admirable race relations policy, drawn up with the co-operation and approval of the Prison Officers' Association. All prisons have a race relations officer and racial abuse has been made a specific disciplinary offence.

Adam Sampson, of the Prison Reform Trust, said that while the Prison Service was to be commended for its policy, there were still 'pockets of organised racism in jails'.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said the new race relations policy guarded against right-wing influence. The service was satisfied the Holme House incident was no more than an isolated incident 'in extremely poor taste'.

However, Mr Sampson said: 'It is essential that the Prison Service does make a determined stance against this sort of behaviour. It is not enough to treat an incident of this kind as a 'joke in poor taste' and it will not be perceived by black prisoners, staff or visitors as a joke.'