Black and Asian drug offenders are more likely to receive a prison sentence than those who are white, new analysis suggests.

Researchers looked at the penalties received by 14,000 defendants aged between 26 and 50 for possession with intent to supply between April 2012 and March 2015.

The work was carried out by the Sentencing Council as it consults on new sentencing guidelines for judges and magistrates.

They found that for a class B drug, 37 per 100 white offenders would be expected to receive an immediate custodial sentence, compared with 46 of Asian, 44 of black and 46 of Chinese and other ethnicities.

For a class A substance, around 93 white offenders, 95 Asian offenders and 95 black offenders per 100 would be expected to be jailed.

The length of sentence also differed, with Asian offenders being jailed for an average of 4% longer, equal to around one month extra, than white counterparts.

Black and Other ethnicity offenders did not have statistically different sentences to white offenders.

The researchers also compared men and women, and found that 37% of men would be expected to be jailed for possession with intent to supply a class B drug, compared with 20% of women.

For class A substances, around 93 male offenders and around 85 female offenders per 100 would be expected to be sentenced to immediate custody.

Men received sentences that were on average 14%, or around five months, longer than women.

The Sentencing Council is asking for feedback on whether the current guidelines for judges and magistrates could lead to discrimination.

Lord Justice Holroyde, chairman of the Sentencing Council, said: "The sentencing guidelines are intended to apply equally to all offenders, irrespective of their sex or ethnicity.

"In drafting the guidelines, the council always takes great care to use language that is clear and unambiguous and will ensure the equal application of sentencing factors to all social groups.

"We do recognise, however, that there is potential for draft guidelines to be interpreted in different ways.

"The council is seeking views on whether any of the factors in the draft drug offences guidelines could be interpreted in ways that could lead to discrimination against particular groups, and we are asking whether there are any other equality or diversity issues the guidelines have not considered."

Changes are also being proposed to reflect tactics used by county lines drug gangs, who are notorious for forcing children and vulnerable people into crime.

The new draft guidelines would allow this exploitation and so-called cuckooing, where a home is taken over for drug dealing, to be taken into account as "culpability factors".

A 12-week consultation is taking place over the changes and will close on April 7.

Lord Justice Holroyde added: "The nature of offending is changing and we are seeing more vulnerable people including children being exploited either through grooming or coercion.

"The proposed guidelines will provide guidance for courts and clear information for victims, witnesses and the public on how drug offenders are sentenced."

By Margaret Davis