A ‘CORRUPT’ former prison governor at HMP Onley near Rugby has been jailed for eight months for exchanging ‘intimate’ phone messages with an inmate.
Victoria Laithwaite, 47, of Kislingbury, Northamptonshire, was arrested in May 2021 after intelligence led to the recovery of two phones during a search of a prisoner’s cell.
The phones showed Laithwaite had exchanged WhatsApp messages with serving prisoner James Chalmers, 30, from Coventry, which were suggestive of an ‘intimate relationship’ between the two.
At the time of her arrest, Laithwaite was working as the Head of Safer Custody and Equalities at the Category C prison, a role responsible for ensuring the support and welfare of the most vulnerable inmates.
She pleaded guilty at Northampton Magistrates’ Court in January, and the case was committed for sentencing at Northampton Crown Court.
In court, Judge Adrienne Lucking QC was told how the phones were recovered in April 2021 and Laithwaite was originally arrested for an offence of misconduct in a public office. She later admitted to an offence under Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007.
Chalmers, who the court was told had a total of 46 previous convictions, admitted two offences under Section 40D of the Prison Act 1952 and was jailed for a total of two years, half of which he will serve on licence.
The court was told Chalmers’ cell had been searched by prison officers in April 2021, and two mobile phones, one memory stick, and four sim cards were recovered.
Analysis of the data was able to trace contact between the two defendants.
Sentencing Laithwaite, Judge Lucking said she had ‘displayed a serious breach of trust in her role as prison governor’, adding that such conduct ‘undermined the safety and good order of Her Majesty’s prisons’.
Laithwaite was sentenced to 12 months in prison with a reduction of four months due to her guilty plea, meaning her final sentence was eight months of which she will serve half in custody.
Det Insp Dan Evans, who led the investigation carried out by the Regional Prisons Intelligence Unit of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit, said Laithwaite had abused the position of trust and responsibility she had within the prison.
He said: “Laithwaite was a senior figure within the Prison Service, a public servant expected to behave to the highest standards, but this was serious misconduct on her part and only serves to erode confidence in the service as well as potentially undermine the complete security and good order needed to run a prison.
“Prisons are for rehabilitation, yet she willingly encouraged a prisoner to commit an offence, something which flies in the face of that. Illicit communications have the potential to seriously undermine order in a prison.
“This was a complex investigation, but working in partnership with colleagues in the Prison Service, I’m pleased we have rooted out a corrupt senior prison officer.”