PRISON officers left a non-smoking Muslim prisoner to share a cell with a racist inmate, who was also a smoker, for two weeks, a report has revealed.

The report on HMP Inverness follows a routine visit to the Highland Jail – one of Scotland’s oldest – by HM Inspectorate of prisons for Scotland last November.

Inspectors described the cell-sharing situation as “concerning” and a “high-risk decision” that should not have been tolerated for so long.

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HM chief inspector of prisons for Scotland David Strang said a lack of clarity over how such decisions were taken could have left staff vulnerable. He said: “If something had gone very wrong and the Muslim prisoner had been seriously assaulted that could have been a problem – although staff said he consented to the arrangement.”

It is one of a number of aspects of management at the prison which Scotland’s prisons chief inspector warns are handled with a lack of formality.

David Strang said the prison was generally well-run, with good relationships between inmates and staff, but called for the casual application of some rules to be tightened up.

He said there was a lack of transparency and formality about decisions such as which prisoners join work parties, health service assessments, complaints procedures and which prisoners are given access to an enhanced wing.

The report says making decisions in this way was well-intentioned but could leave staff in trouble. “In a number of areas of prison life, it was apparent that staff relied on well-intentioned informal processes in their dealings with prisoners,” it says, adding that while the approach is “understandable” in a small jail, it could mean new prisoners miss out.

More importantly, it says: “There is a risk that the lack of documented processes and absence of recorded decision-making may leave staff vulnerable to challenge and without evidence to support their actions.”

The size of HMP Inverness also causes regular problems, Mr Strang added. The 103-capacity jail regularly houses closer to 120 men and is unable to offer some programmes to help prisoners to change their ways. “The prison is too small to accommodate all the prisoners sent to it from the courts in the north of Scotland, resulting in prisoners being regularly transferred,” Mr Strang said.

Because transfers disrupt family contact, some prisoners resist being assessed for courses to tackle problems like sex offending, anger management or violence. “The result was that prisoners do not address their offending behaviour,” the report says.

Mr Strang said inspectors were also concerned at a very high turnover at the top of the prison hierarchy, with the current governor, Stephen Coyle, the fourth at Inverness in the past five years. “Such a rate of change of governors had clearly been unsettling for the prison,” Mr Strang said.

Last year the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) announced plans to build a £66m replacement for HMP Inverness, which could accommodate 200 prisoners.

A spokeswoman for the SPS said concerns about informal procedures at the prison would be taken on board. She added: "Whilst there has been a number of changes in the Senior Management Team in Inverness in recent years, it is gratifying to note that the Chief Inspector has remarked on the positive relationships within the establishment."