Frozen ready meals retailer Cook has been forced to suspend an initiative offering jobs to prison inmates at its Kent factory following an insurance wrangle.

Head of brand James Rutter said its insurance company Tokio Marine claimed that as "the broad range of offences committed by the scheme participants could be regarded as posing a risk to staff and/or property", the retailer would not be covered should an incident involving the inmates occur.

Inspired by a visit to The Clink a restaurant in High Down Prison, Surrey Cook joined forces with a nearby prison to employ inmates in the "last months of their sentences" at its Sittingbourne factory.

The scheme had proved "a great success" and every offender working at the kitchen "conducted themselves impeccably and worked hard", said Rutter.

Six inmates completed the first phase of the scheme and five new recruits were lined up for the second phase before objections were raised.

If the recruits, who had been carefully vetted to make sure they wouldn't be a risk to other staff, proved successful, the retailer would offer them full-time roles on their release.

"We were disappointed our insurers wouldn't work with us to find a resolution. We're still working to get insurance cover to relaunch the scheme," Rutter said. "The problem was that there was no clause in our kitchen insurance policy that covered the scheme."

Cook had received "numerous offers of help and advice from customers who find the situation as crazy as we do" since detailing its plight in its customer newsletter, he added.