Former prison warder Lauren Joyce, 24, from Adlington, Lancashire, left Preston Crown Court a free woman this morning despite the judge warning her actions in messaging inmate Mark Smith had been ‘very very stupid’
A rookie prison warder who was ‘taken in by the charms’ of a convicted robber has escaped a jail sentence over an illicit relationship with the prisoner which included 50 hours of phone calls in five months.
Lauren Joyce, 24, swapped almost 500 messages with 30-year old drug dealer Michael Smith after he began showering her with attention shortly after a painful split from her boyfriend, a court heard.
Over a five month period in 2017 Joyce spent a total of 50 hours chatting on the phone to Smith after he acquired two mobile telephones on the black market while serving a four year stretch at Thorn Cross jail near Warrington, Cheshire.
They also swapped messages on Facebook and Instagram before their forbidden relationship emerged and his phones were found when Smith’s cell was raided after a tip off.
Officers found the two phones, plus SIM cards, two chargers and paper work containing Joyce’s mobile and landline number plus her address. Police raided her home in Adlington, near Chorley in Lancashire and found a birthday card sent to her by Smith.
At Preston Crown Court, Joyce wept as she admitted misconduct in a public office but she walked free with a 12 month jail term suspended for two years after she insisted the pair had not had ‘a physical relationship.’
There was also no suggestion she had supplied Smith with the contraband phone equipment.
Smith, from Netherton, Liverpool who admitted possessing prohibited items in jail was given a six month jail sentence suspended for two years.
The court heard the pair met in 2016 when Joyce was working as a probationer at Category C prison at Wymott jail near Preston.
Smith was initially sent to Wymott after being convicted of supplying heroin and ended up on the same wing Joyce worked on. He later intensified his friendship with her when he was moved to Category D Thorn Cross jail in July 2017.
Prosecuting, Emma Kehoe, said: ‘On December 3, the prison were receiving information that there was contact being made between the defendants – which was, of course, prohibited. This was through social media, phone calls and text messages.
‘As a result of the information they received, they arranged his cell be searched and prison officers went to his cell in the early hours and he was asked to leave. He did not only leave his cell, but he actually walked out of the prison.
‘Various items were found in the search including two phones, SIM cards, two chargers and some paper work with phone numbers attributed to Lauren Joyce. She was arrested on December 7 and her home was searched and a birthday card made out to her by Michael Smith was found.’
Joyce later told police she had been in regular contact with Smith who began communicating with her on Facebook and Instagram.
Miss Kehoe added: ‘When he contacted her, she didn’t report him but she asked her friend to tell him to stop contacting her. He ignored that request and continued contacting her.
Michael Smith, 30, who has 14 previous convictions including drug dealing and robbery, spent more than 50 hours on the phone to prison warder Lauren Joyce, 24, while he was behind bars and should have had no access to a mobile phone
‘He requested that she contact him, which she eventually did. This continued through social media, text messages and phone calls. She denies supplying him with the items in the cell and the Crown cannot prove this.
‘She was subsequently suspended from the prison service and an investigation was conducted. Across the three phones they contacted each other 490 times, and the calls added up to a total of 50 hours. This happened between July 29 and December 3 last year and it was stopped by the search of Michael Smith’s cell.’
‘There’s no evidence to suggest that there was direct, sexual contact between the two.’
Smith has 14 previous convictions including a 2012 robbery charge. He was given an additional four month sentence over his escape from Thorn Cross but was released earlier this year.
Mitigating for Joyce, defence lawyer William Donnelly said: ‘On a day in July last year, Lauren Joyce made a choice when she knew that Michael Smith had a phone in custody when she knew he shouldn’t have.
‘She had an opportunity to tell the authorities that a crime was being committed, but she didn’t and the reason she is here today is a direct result of that foolish decision.
‘She was a dedicated, hard working young woman. It’s very likely that his conviction will follow her into the future when she wants to resume her working career, and it’s very likely that it will have an adverse affect.’
Mr Donnelly added: ‘She made admissions as soon as she could – there’s no suggestion that she imported these items into prison, there’s no suggestion of any financial gain on her part and there’s no suggestion of a physical relationship between the two.’
‘She is extremely remorseful, she is at low risk of reoffending and she is of previous good character, and I think there is good reason to suspend a sentence. This is a young woman who is unlikely to ever darken the corridors of the criminal justice system again.’
Sentencing Judge Mark Brown said: ‘What she did was stupid, very very stupid. No prison officers should conduct themselves in that manner. There is a suggestion of some kind of relationship though.
Warder Lauren Jones, 24, (left) received a birthday card from inmate Michael Smith, 30, (right), during their five-month illicit relationship
‘My impression is that she was a bit out of her depth and it came at a time when her boyfriend had just broken up with her after seven years and got together with a new woman – which must’ve been hard for her.
‘I find it very difficult to accept that someone who was reluctant to communicate with him would then engage in 50 hours of phone conversations. I take the view that she let her heart rule her head and when he contacted her she was, perhaps, flattered by him.
‘Your best point is that she was naive, she was vulnerable and she was taken in by his charm.’
He added: ‘Lauren Joyce you completed training as a prison officer at HMP Wymott and Michael Smith, were sent to that prison and you met Lauren Joyce while she was working there.
‘On July 19, 2017, you Michael Smith were transferred to a Category D prison – Thorn Cross and the connection between you two seems to end then. But, in a relatively short amount of time, it’s clear that the pair of you were in communication with each other again.
‘It started on social media, but then moved onto texts and phone calls. You, Lauren Joyce, knew that this should not have taken place and must have realised that he was using a mobile phone which, in itself, is prohibited.
‘Over a period of about four to five months from July 29 to December 3 2017, there was some 490 text messages and phone calls and the phone calls lasted 50 hours. So, I don’t accept that you were a reluctant participant in this relationship, Lauren Joyce.
‘It seems clear to me that he started the contact, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you were a willing participant. You are a young woman with a decent home background but you were out of your depth and it was also at a time when your boyfriend broke up with you and started a new relationship with another woman.
‘So, for those reasons, I accept that you were vulnerable and you then fell into this situation which was out of character for you. This is a serious case.’
Joyce was also ordered to complete 120 hours unpaid work.
After the case Deputy Governor of HMP Wymott, Mike Baines, said: ‘The overwhelming majority of prison officers and staff do a fantastic job to very high standards, in what can be very demanding and difficult circumstances.
‘Occasionally, they are let down by a colleague, who, through their corrupt actions allow prisoners to continue their criminal activity from within the establishment. This type of behaviour puts staff and the public at risk and will not be tolerated.’
Det Sgt John Davies, from the Prison Anti-Corruption Unit said: ‘Regardless of the circumstances leading to the pair starting a relationship, Lauren Joyce knew that Smith had been in possession of a number of mobile telephones and failed to report this to security.
‘It is widely accepted that mobile phones are used by serving inmates to continue criminality and can be used to spread unrest inside the prisons themselves.
‘The fact that Joyce chose to ignore this put her colleagues and other inmates inside the prison at risk. The dangers of allowing the continued use of a mobile phone in prison cannot be underestimated.’