A JUDGE branded a prison officer "palpably criminal" as he locked her up for having an improper relationship with an inmate and helping him break jail rules.

Rebecca King put credit on a mobile telephone which was used by convicted drugs baron David Turnbull behind bars, Teesside Crown Court heard today (Friday, January 11).

The couple met when single mum King worked as a senior officer at HMP Wealstun, near Wetherby, North Yorkshire and Turnbull was being held there in 2007.

Loading article content

They started a relationship after Turnbull's release and it continued after his arrest in 2011 for his part in a massive cocaine, cannabis and heroin plot.

The 42-year-old was on remand in Holme House Prison, Stockton, when a mobile phone was found in the cell of another inmate, said Simon Myers, prosecuting.

Tests on the pink handset showed Turnbull had been a regular user of it and there had been 1,167 calls and text messages between it and phones King had.

A police investigation also showed that the 33-year-old, from Selby, North Yorkshire, "topped up" the phone with vouchers from local supermarkets.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, jailed her for three years after telling her: "The public rightly expects those within the service will carry out their duties conscientiously and within the law.

"They trust that the prison officers employed by them, effectively, carry out that duty. You broke that trust."

Christopher Knox, mitigating, said King would have a tough time in jail because of her previous work, and said her two children would suffer.

The judge said she was not foolish or blinded by love as many of her glowing references said, and told her: "It was palpably worse, it was palpably wrong and it was palpably criminal."

King used the phone to keep in touch with Turnbull, who is now serving a sentence of almost nine years for his part in the nationwide drugs conspiracy.

The “intimate” relationship did not start until Turnbull was released from the jail where King worked – but continued after his later drugs arrest.

Mr Myers said the charges relate to a period between January 2008 and September last year when a “covert” mobile phone was found by prison authorities.

He said the phone – banned inside jails – was used by a number of inmates and King's contact with it is "one of the most serious aspects" of the case.

“Not only did she know about the covert telephone, but she actually paid for top-ups which is a very serious matter, indeed,” said Mr Myers.

An anti-corruption officer within the prison said in a statement that phones smuggled into jails caused a massive security headache for staff.

Chris Carson said: "Prisoners use phones to continue running criminal enterprises, including the drug trade, to threaten members of the public and witnesses.

"They help to corrupt prison culture and diminish the effects of rehabilitation. They Re very valuable currency within the prison system."

King admitted concealing criminal property – almost £10,000 of Turnbull's money – knowing or believing it was his benefit from criminal conduct.

She also pleaded guilty to three charges of misconduct in a public office by having an intimate relationship with Turnbull while she was a prison officer.

Two of the counts relate to the phone – failing to report to the authorities that it existed and by maintaining contact with her lover in breach of jail regulations.

King denied a further misconduct charge by having the relationship while they were at the same jail, and two other money laundering counts. The pleas were accepted.

The court heard how King paid in cash for a £2,300 holiday to Mexico for her and Turnbull, but Mr Knox said she never benefited from his crimes.

Mr Myers said £6,000 was found in a designer handbag hidden in the loft at the home of King's mother, and almost £3,500 was discovered in a wardrobe.