AN experienced prison officer has been cleared of assaulting an inmate at HMP Berwyn who spat in his face.

Standing trial at Wrexham Magistrates Court, Joseph Okeneba, admitted punching prisoner William Vallance in his cell but claimed it was in self-defence after the inmate had spat in his face and struck him as he tried to persuade him to attend a meeting.

Following a day long trial, magistrates found the 43-year-old not guilty of assault with the bench disagreeing with prosecutor Angharad Mullarkey that the prison officer had not acted in self defence and had constructed "four completely different versions" of what had happened.

The court heard that on the morning of March 21 this year, Mr Okeneba, of Cae Glas, Coedpoeth, was working as a temporary supervising officer at HMP Berwyn when he was asked to go to Mr Vallance's cell because the inmate was due to go to an assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) Review.

Mr Vallance, who is currently serving a 12 year sentence for two counts of robbery and one of assault causing actual bodily harm, following an incident in August 2016, had been on hunger strike for the previous six days over an argument about receiving medication and was described as being "a vulnerable prisoner" although there was no automatic requirement for him to attend the meeting.

Giving evidence via videolink, Mr Vallance said he was dozing on his bed at around 10am when Mr Okeneba arrived at his cell and told him to attend his ACCT Review, but this request was refused.

"He informed me I had to go," said Mr Vallance. "I said I wanted to see my custodial officer and was standing there in my boxer shorts with my hands down by my sides to show I'm not aggressive."

Mr Vallance said he went to close the cell door but then felt the prison officer on his back, forcing him onto the bed where he punched him repeatedly "four or five times" including one blow to his face which caused the inmate to receive a split lip.

"I wanted to stop any confrontation and be left alone," added Mr Vallance, who said Mr Okeneba also called him a "p****". "I had no energy," he added.

The court was shown CCTV footage of Mr Okeneba entering Mr Vallance's cell before leaving and then quickly pushing back through the door when the incident took place.

When asked about his medication by Patrick Williamson, defending, Mr Vallance said he had not taken any for two months and was hearing voices and suffering from paranoia.

He admitted telling Mr Okeneba to "get the f*** out of my cell" but denied spitting at him or punching the officer.

"I wanted to be left alone," added Mr Vallance. "It's my right."

Reading from Mr Okeneba's statement to police officers, Ms Mullarkey told the court how the 43-year-old had been a prison officer since September 2005 and had worked at HMP Wormwood Scrubs and HMP Belmarsh.

He had moved to Wales from London after the break up of his marriage and had worked at HMP Berwyn for six months.

Mr Okeneba told the police that the new prison was "a very challenging environment" where staff "didn't know what they were doing" and where "prisoners got away with a lot".

"He (Vallance) spoke to me like I was his man-servant," said Mr Okeneba, who said he punched the inmate once but only after he had been punched and spat at. "I said 'don't speak to me like that' but I'm used to it after all these years in the job.

"He called me a 'big idiot' and a retard and spat in my face but I do get called names - every single day - so it doesn't phase me.

"His eyes were glazed, full of hatred and I was in fear for my life. In all my years of service I have never felt such a threat."

When questioned by officers why he had stepped back into the cell, Mr Okeneba said he couldn't explain but said he had not "flipped".

Put the same question by Mr Williamson, Mr Okeneba, said: "I started to back out of the cell but he collected his phlegm and spat in my face.

"It was disgusting and I decided to go back in and challenge him about what he had done."

"My intention was to try and neutralise him and defend myself."

He added that he still suffered headaches after the incident after his head had hit the door or the wall when Mr Vallance punched him.

When asked by Ms Mularkey about his job at the prison, Mr Okeneba repeated that HMP Berwyn was "challenging".

"I felt the prisoners got away with things and 80 per cent of the staff were brand new," he said. "It was a challenging environment.

"Prisoners get away with everything because the staff don't know what they are doing. They (the prisoners) were manipulating staff who didn't know what to do.

"When you've just been assaulted there is nothing in the training manual to say you can't challenge something."

The court also heard character references from two senior members of staff at the prison who described Mr Okeneba as a "hard worker" and a "talented member of staff who works well with prisoners."

"He is a calming influence who treats everyone he works with fairly," said the accused's line manager.

Finding Mr Okeneba not guilty of assault, chair of the bench, Lesley Taylor, said the court could not be certain what had happened in the cell but that the prison officer's evidence was "mostly consistent".

"With your experience, you probably should have walked away," she added.