PRISON chiefs have been forced to pay out more than £43,000 after unfairly dismissing two chaplains.

The preachers both raised independent claims months apart against Serco, the firm that operates privately run Kilmarnock Prison, after one was sacked and the other suspended.

Colin Cuthbert was dismissed after visiting a prisoner's partner to collect a photograph of the couple's dead son, while Daniel Murray was forced to resign after he was suspended for taking spectacles into the prison for inmates - a move officials claimed was a threat to security.

Both employment judges found the men had been unfairly treated by prison management and Mr Cuthbert was awarded £36,345, while Mr Murray received £7,158.

They have since raised concern over the prison's chaplaincy, claiming it has been greatly diminished since their departures.

Mr Cuthbert, of Yieldshields, near Carluke, South Lanarkshire, also claims he suffered ill-health as a result of his treatment and was forced to sell his house after losing his job.

He said: "I was really disappointed with the way I was treated and shocked when I was dismissed. It caused a huge amount of stress and took a real toll on my health, I wasn't able to sleep or eat.

"We ended up having to put our house on the market and came within about two months of not being able to pay the mortgage. It was a very difficult time."

The preacher, who had worked at the prison for 11 years, was sacked after social workers raised a complaint about his visit to the inmate's partner. They said it had caused the woman distress.

However, Mr Cuthbert argued the woman had made no complaint to him about the visit and willingly handed over the photograph and some money for her partner.

He added: "I worked in prisons for more than 25 years and never had any stain on my character. I made hundreds of home visits over the years without any issues being raised."

The 65-year-old, who was sacked in April 2012 after making the visit in January that year, said he felt "vindicated" by the judgment and was pleased to have his name cleared.

Tribunal judge Shona MacLean accepted Mr Cuthbert had been open about his visit and said there was nothing to suggest he would have been disciplined had there been no complaint from social work.

Meanwhile, Mr Murray, of Stevenston, Ayrshire, was suspended six months later when management was told he had been taking pairs of reading glasses into the prison. He eventually resigned, claiming he had been humiliated by the process and had lost his trust in the management.

Mr Murray, also 65, who worked as a part-time chaplain for Serco for 11 years, said: "I tried to explain to management we had been bringing spectacles into the prison for years. It was all done openly. All of the officers knew this was done and it was them who told us when someone was in need of glasses."

He said the service made a "big difference" to inmates and he viewed it as "a matter of justice" that they should be able to read documents presented to them.

Mr Murray added: "Part of the reason I reacted the way I did was a matter of principle. My view was, 'If they're treating me like that, they must be treating others like that too'."

Employment judge James Hendry said Mr Murray's suspension had "all the hallmarks of a 'knee-jerk' reaction".

It is understood a temporary Christian chaplain had been working a couple of hours a week following the men's dismissals. However, Serco was unable to hire a permanent chaplain due to the ongoing tribunals - meaning the unit has suffered about a 50% drop in hours for almost two years.

A spokesman for the prison said a permanent Christian chaplain was being sought, while its multi-faith chaplaincy would also see expansion.

He added: "Serco accepts the findings of the tribunal and has reviewed its processes to ensure they are followed in future."