AN Iraqi prisoner was kept in a Hampshire jail for nearly two years after he should have been released, because immigration chiefs refused to tell prison bosses what to do with him.

The man, who was only released two weeks ago and was immediately deported to Iraq, had originally been sentenced to an 18-month sentence and should have been released in January 2005.

But because the immigration service failed to give the prison proper instructions, it meant more than £75,000 of taxpayers' money was wasted keeping him behind bars.

The revelation comes in a damning new report into the state of Winchester Prison, which also calls for answers on the problems from Home Office Minister Paul Goggins.

Although bosses at the HMP Winchester Independent Monitoring Board, who produced the report, praised staff at the Victorian-built jail for their dedication and hard work, almost every other aspect of the prison was heavily criticised.

In particular the board said rising prison populations across the UK meant some prisoners were being held in unsuitable conditions, while others who should have been transferred to different prisons were still at the jail.

It also attacks the policy of keeping people with mental health problems locked up in prison healthcare wings when they should be receiving treatment from trained staff.

Drug treatment programmes were criticised as being chronically under-resourced, while the board also said many prisoners were not being made to do purposeful activities.

The prison is also more than 50 per cent overcrowded, with the report stating that the 'doubled-up' cells the prisoners were living in did not meet government standards for the care of inmates.

Turning to the Iraqi national, whose details The Daily Echo was not given, the board say: "The board is concerned that the lack of policy with dealing with foreign nationals has led to an abuse of human rights in Winchester.

"The prison received no instructions from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) on the status of one Iraqi prisoner, which led to him being held at the prison for 19 months beyond the end of his sentence."

It adds that this was despite reminders sent to the IND and two letters sent to the Home Secretary from the board on the prisoner's behalf - neither of which were answered.

A Home Office spokesman refused to comment on the case, but a spokesman for the charity The Prison Reform Trust said he understood there to be around 900 foreign prisoners in British jails who should have been freed.