Ex-prison officer spared jail over relationship with young offender

Ex-prison officer spared jail over relationship with young offender
Ex-prison officer spared jail over relationship with young offender

A prison officer at a young offenders' institution who was caught having secret "trysts" in a cleaning cupboard with a 20-year-old inmate has been spared jail.

Stacey Sutherland, 27, said she looked for solace with convicted blackmailer Leon Shooter after her marriage to a fellow prison officer failed and a subsequent relationship with an older prison guard collapsed.

In one love letter, Shooter wrote that he liked her being nice to him, but also enjoyed it when she was "aggressive", Teesside Crown Court heard.

Sutherland, who has a six-year-old son, admitted misconduct in a public office and cried when was she handed an eight-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and complete rehabilitation requirements.

Sutherland, of Marshall Street, Barnard Castle, County Durham, worked at Deerbolt YOI and became an officer last December.

Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said in April a female officer noticed paperwork on Sutherland's handbag when they went to the toilet at work, and read that it was a love letter from Shooter.

The colleague informed bosses and the authorities escorted her from the premises and an inquiry began.

Two 10-minute prison phone calls Shooter had made to Sutherland using a pseudonym for her were discovered, and more love letters were also found at her home.

In the first phone call, which had been recorded, Shooter said he could not wait to be out, and that they would spend their lives together when he was released.

There was sexual content in the letters, but their relationship did not go further than kissing and cuddling in a cleaning cupboard, the court heard.

It started when Shooter, a cleaner on the wing where she worked, told Sutherland he would miss her when she was on annual leave, and they kissed in the cupboard.

Sutherland made full admissions to police when she was arrested.

Shooter had previously been locked up for blackmail, and at the time of the affair he was on remand, having been recalled to prison.

Rebecca Suttle, defending Sutherland, said: "Her career and her reputation are in tatters."

She said the relationship had not gone beyond kissing, explaining: "While I do not seek to minimise the offending, it does not extend to more than the occasional tryst in a cleaning cupboard."

The offence happened when Sutherland, who resigned from the Prison Service and now works as a waitress, was going through a difficult time, her barrister said.

"Her marriage had not long ago broken down and she had engaged in a relationship with a fellow prison officer considerably older than her," Miss Suttle said.

She said the marriage ended as a result of the relationship with the older man.

"Both gentlemen were employed by the Prison Service and the backlash had been that her professional life became very difficult as well."

She added: "She found herself confiding in Mr Shooter and seeking solace from him."

Judge Stephen Ashurst said he was taking the exceptional course of not immediately jailing her, having regard to her early guilty plea and the fact she was sole carer for her son.

He said: "You are, I know, ashamed of what you did and the fact you have ended your career in the circumstances where you naively embarked upon this relationship with someone who you ought to have steered well clear of, given his situation and yours."