Prison officers having affairs with criminals rise by nearly 90%

EXCLUSIVE: Prison bosses go through guards’ social media accounts to make sure they are not having illegal affairs with inmates in new crackdown

  • EXCLUSIVE: Social media accounts of prison officers will be trawled under move
  • Rise in numbers has been put down to the recruitment process and interviews 

Social media accounts of prison officers are being checked to root out staff at risk of corruption – after the number of wardens having affairs with criminals rocketed by 89 per cent in three years.

They include one who had their lover’s cell number tattooed in their inner thigh as well as others who sent explicit photographs and even had sex behind bars.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show five male and 31 women prison officers have been sacked for the misconduct in the past three years.

And among them are some of the 18 female guards at HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, who have been fired since 2017 for illicit relationships.

A source told MailOnline: ‘Management is determined to root out corrupt officers and have started renewing vetting of prison staff every 10 years.

‘They are also piloting social media checks for some higher risk roles such as prison officers.’

The police national database check is also being added to criminal records checks already conducted.

Mark Fairhurst, National Chair of the Prison Officers Association, told MailOnline: ‘We will work tirelessly with the employer to rid the service of corrupt staff.

‘These examples highlight the inadequate training staff receive that places us all at risk. All too often vulnerable recruits who lack life experience are conditioned by experienced criminals who exploit their weaknesses.

Prison officer, Ayshea Gunn with inmate Khuram Razaq in the cells of HMP Berwyn, Britain’s biggest prison

Emily Watson, left, was jailed for one year after she performed a sex act on inmate John McGee

‘We would like to see a more robust training package, more competitive pay and stringent vetting procedures that help prevent corruption.

‘The vast majority of prison officers are decent, honest, hard working people who are a credit to the service and these examples should not detract from a workforce that continues to serve the public with integrity and bravery.’     

The sharp rise is feared to be down to the current recruitment process which had people interview for the jobs over Zoom, the Telegraph reported.

There has also been a diversity drive that has seen female prison staff numbers rise by nearly 30 per cent to 15,000 in the system.

Married Victoria Laithwaite, 47, was caught sending prisoner James Chalmers, 30, messages which suggested a relationship between the pair while he was banged up.

She was working as head of safer custody and equalities when the texts were discovered on a mobile phone found inside the prisoner’s cell at HMP Onley.

Ayshea Gunn in handcuffs on her way to prison, leaving court after she was found to have had a relationship with an inmate

Ex prison officer Jennifer Gavan, left, was jailed for eight months after she smuggled a mobile phone into the prison for her lover Alex Coxon, right. She sent Coxon intimate messages and photographs over Snapchat

A court heard in one exchange she said ‘I thought you’d ditched me’ while in another she wrote: ‘I was thinking all sorts babe’.

A photograph of Laithwaite was also found saved on the phone discovered inside Chalmers’ cell.

The sentencing judge told Laithwaite that her offence was aggravated by her ‘serious breach of trust’ in her role as a prison governor – which included responsibility for ensuring the support of the most vulnerable inmates.

Her defence lawyer said she was aware she has ‘destroyed her life’ and put her family ‘through hell’ because of her ‘foolishness’.

One female prison officer who had an inmate’s baby following a secret year-long fling was jailed for nearly two years in November 2022. 

Corinne Redhead, 29, at first denied misconduct until police found criminal Robert O’Connor named as the father on the child’s birth certificate. 

Imprisoned for 25 months, Ms Redhead was told by Judge Michael Simon: ‘You were utterly in breach of your professional duty.’ 

Victoria Laithwaite (pictured), 47,  who was working as head of safer custody and equalities at HMP Onley when she sent messages to and had an ‘intimate liaison’ with an inmate, was jailed for eight months

Prison officer Ayshea Gunn, left, was jailed for one year at Mold Crown Court in 2019 after having an affair with dangerous criminal Khuram Razaq, right, at HMP Berwyn in North Wales

The female prison officer entered the clandestine relationship with Mr O’Connor, who was serving a ten-year sentence, while working at The Mount Prison in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire – an all men’s prison. 

She was already six months pregnant when officers were tipped off and raided Mr O’Connor’s cell in January 2019, where they found a mobile phone hidden in the U-bend of his prison toilet. 

The phone contained messages between the two – including 100 texts exchanged in just 72 hours – some of which were sexual.

Among the guards guilty of initiating relationships with prisoners at HMP Berwyn were Jennifer Gavan, 27, Ayshea Gunn, 27, and Emily Watson, 26.

Most recently, Gavan was jailed for eight months in December following her relations with prisoner Alex Coxon, 25.

She had sent intimate photos of herself to prisoner Coxon on Snapchat and kissed him during the relationship between April and July 2020. 

She also smuggled a mobile phone behind bars for Coxon.

Gavan, of Llay, Wrexham, pleaded guilty to misconduct in public at Mold Crown Court after she accepted £150 to bring in the mobile phone.

The relationship came just one year after fellow officer Ayshea Gunn, 27, had a fling with ‘dangerous’ inmate Khuram Razaq, 29.

A search of Gunn’s bedroom revealed snaps of the pair kissing and hugging also with mobile phone pictures taken in his cell. She was subsequently jailed for one year at Mold Crown Court in 2019.

Officer Emily Watson, 26, was jailed for one year in April 2019 at the same court for performing a sex act on an inmate in his cell.

Given that Watson spent so much time with John McGee at the prison, staff soon became suspicious and launched an investigation.

Mold Crown Court heard they had been alone together in his cell on three occasions when she performed a sex act on him twice and had intercourse once.

Some 31 female officers in England and Wales have been dismissed for inappropriate relationships since 2019, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice.

Staff at the prison, which opened in 2017, have now had to undergo compulsory new training in a bid to tackle such issues at the 2,100-capacity jail.

The prison, previously dubbed ‘UK’s cushiest jail’ by an MP, gives inmates access to a wide range of education and training services, vocational qualifications, access to a full-sized sports hall, weights and fitness room and outdoor pitches, and several methods of being able to communicate with friends and family in the outside world.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘The vast majority of prison officers and other staff carry out their duties to the high standards the public rightly expect, but the small minority who fall short of those standards are held to account.’

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