PRISON bosses spent more than £700,000 in legal costs relating to Lewes Prison in just one year, The Argus can reveal.

HM Prisons and Probations Service shelled out £738,624 in damages and legal costs involving the prison in the year leading up to March 2019, a Freedom of Information request revealed.

This represents a £600,000 increase compared with the year before.

Between March 2018 and March 2019 prison chiefs spent £201,069 on cases involving assaults on staff at Lewes.

Only £6,453 was spent on these cases in the preceding year.

But Prison Officers’ Association assistant general secretary Mick Pimblett said the high spend on legal fees “did not come as a surprise” to officers.

“Despite Government claims that they are reducing violence, these figures prove that they are failing to protect their staff and our members from increased violence in the workplace,” Mr Pimblett said.

“The soundbite that they are recruiting extra staff is beginning to wear thin.

“The staff they are recruiting are replacing staff that have left.

“The Government needs to increase staffing levels so that safety, order and control can be achieved in the prison estate.”

Mr Pimblett called for the Government to give all prison officers more equipment to protect themselves, including extendable batons.

But HM Prisons and Probation Services also paid out £124,101 in cases involving assaults on prisoners in the 2018/19 financial year.

And prison chiefs spent £234,119 on accidental personal injury cases in the same period.

Meanwhile more than £7,000 was also spent on “unlawful detention” cases.

A prison service spokesman said the figures for the 2018/19 financial year were “skewed by some historical, high-value claims”.

But when asked by The Argus to reveal the claims, the spokesman said it did not comment on individual cases.

“Assaults at HMP Lewes fell by almost a third last year following a series of improvements including an X-ray body scanner and specialist search dogs,” he said.

“The figures for 2018/19 are skewed by some historical, high-value claims relating to incidents that happened some time ago.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We successfully defend two thirds of claims.

“And when prisoners are awarded compensation we make sure they pay their victims back first.”