Warrington prison officer jailed for inappropriate relationships with inmate brothers

Lucy Thornton

A prison officer from Warrington is beginning a 10 month prison sentence after "falling in love" with an inmate.

Lucy Thornton, 28, developed "mutual feelings" for violent offender Aaron Whittaker while working at HMP Altcourse on Merseyside and went on to have a child with him when he was released on parole, Liverpool Crown Court heard on Friday.

She admitted two counts of misconduct in a public office for inappropriate relationships with Whittaker, who was in prison for wounding, and his brother and fellow inmate, Haden, who was serving a sentence for wounding and burglary.

Prosecuting lawyer Simon Duncan told the court there was evidence of hundreds of calls and text messages between Thornton and the two convicts while they were in prison.

He said intelligence began to emerge about inappropriate relationships involving Thornton in March and April 2019, but when she was interviewed by the prison's security governor, Mark Jones, she denied anything was going on.

On the same day as her interview, in May 2019, Aaron Whittaker's cell was searched and a piece of paper with the name Lucy and a phone number, later linked to the defendant, was discovered.

Later searches uncovered mini mobile phones in the cells of both Haden and Aaron, who was later transferred to HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton.

Lucy Thornton Credit: Liverpool Echo Syndication

In June 2019, Thornton, of Orford, Warrington, was suspended from her job after a "play fight" between her and another inmate, in which officers witnessed her rolling round on the floor, Mr Duncan said.

She was arrested the following month.

A phone recovered from Thornton's home had Aaron Whittaker's contact stored as "My Baby", Mr Duncan said.

The court heard that, after Aaron Whittaker was transferred from Altcourse, he contacted Thornton on the prison phone system, referring to her as Lisa Williams, as well as using a prison email system.

She transferred #200 into a bank account to settle a drugs debt for him after having conversations about him being under threat, the court was told.

When she was interviewed, Thornton said she and Aaron Whittaker had developed mutual feelings in February 2019 and he gave her his number so she could call him when she was off duty.

She said she contacted Haden Whittaker as a friend and was also in touch with their mother.

Mr Duncan said there was no evidence of sexual activity in the prison but when Aaron Whittaker was released in November 2019 they "got together" and she gave birth to their son last year.

She told police they are no longer in a relationship.

Lucy Thornton (right) arriving at Liverpool Crown Court Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

Anthony O'Donohoe, defending, told the court: "Her explanation is she fell in love with the wrong person in the wrong place and I suppose in the tides of men and women these things can happen, inappropriate and totally wrong though they are."

He said Thornton was a woman of positive good character and her future prospects have been "effectively ruined" following the case.

Sentencing her, Judge Neil Flewitt QC said he accepted that an immediate custodial sentence would have a significant impact on her 10-month-old son but it is important to deter other prison officers who may be "tempted to betray the trust placed in them" and criminals who "might seek to exploit them".

He added: "I regret to say I am satisfied in this case that the appropriate punishment can only be achieved by the imposition of an immediate custodial sentence."