Warders at a prison housing some of Britain's most notorious killers are to hold a £15,000 Christmas party - at the taxpayer's expense.

Bosses at Frankland jail, which holds Doctor Death Harold Shipman, have defended the slap-up party, in the face of criticism from some of their own staff.

One worker at the Durham City prison, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "The governor has arranged a Christmas party at a top local hotel, we have been told that the food will cost £30 per head.

"Almost all the staff are planning to attend, and they have been told that they can each bring a partner or friend, that means there will be roughly 500 people there.

"Staff at the prison, like myself, are well paid and although it is nice to know that your work is appreciated there must be better things for tax-payers money to be spent on.

"The prison could use that £15,000 on rehabilitating prisoners or updating equipment within the prison, that would be better then wasting it on a night out.

"I think a few of my colleagues feel the same way, but we don't want to publicly speak out because we would be pilloried."

A spokeswoman for the prison said: "Frankland prison is officially one of the best prisons in the country, being one of only five in England and Wales to be accorded 'High Performing Prison' status.

"As a High Performing Prison, Frankland attracts additional funding to be spent on the staff recognition.

"Frankland prison is having a staff Christmas function, the costs of which are being met from the prison's budget. The decision to do this was made by Governor Phil Copple.

"Prison Service policy allows Governors to fund staff functions as part of a our staff recognition programme.

"Frankland prison is a high security prison, performing the vital service of protecting the public. Its staff deals with some of the most difficult and dangerous prisoners in the system, and do so to a very high standard.

"Governor Copple believes that the public can value and take pride in this well-delivered service, and the hard-working public servants responsible for it, and should welcome the reward and recognition being given to Frankland staff."

The prison staff will visit the swanky Ramside Hall Hotel just outside Durham.

The hotel, formerly the home of the Pemberton family, boasts 80 luxurious rooms as well as a full size 18-hole golf course.

The Christmas evening menu includes starters of Seared Fillet Salmon, served on a salad of bitter leaves with basil dressing, Smooth Duck Liver Parfait, served with orange segments or Carpaccio of Monkfish served with wild rocket salad and lemon oil. Vegetarians may prefer the Warm Roquefort and Spinach Tart, which is served on a bed of baby salad leaves, topped with a red onion marmalade.

The main courses include traditional Turkey with Stuffing or for the more adventurous Roast Breasts of Wood Pigeon which is glazed with red wine jelly and served on a sage scented cassoulet of continental lentils with chorizo sausage. The menu also features alternatives of venison or red snapper.

Set in huge grounds which feature the golf course and a golf academy, the Ramside is the North East's largest privately owned hotel.

For a price of £29.50 not only do partygoers get their choice from the extensive menu, but also a cabaret and disco.

Durham County Councillor John Shuttleworth slammed the decision to fund the party from public money.

Mr Shuttleworth, an independent member of the Labour-controlled council, said: "I think this is ridiculous, if they want to have a party then they should pay for it themselves.

"It's all well and good them saying that it will boost staff moral and reward them, I don't doubt that they do a good job but that is what they are paid to do.

"If I have a Christmas party to attended then I expect to pay for it. It would be different if it was a private firm, in those circumstances it would be fine for bosses to reward the staff, but £15,000 of public money could and should be better spent."