"Sex for Days out" Claims Made This Senior Officer Suspended

A senior prison officer in charge of a wing at a women’s jail has been suspended over allegations he had sex with inmates in return for day-release passes.

Police are investigating claims that Russell Thorne, 40, a principal officer at HMP Downview in Surrey, was caught in a cell with a prisoner. Three unnamed wardens have also been suspended over the claims.

Mr Thorne, a married father of two who has also served as an acting governor of the prison, is also alleged to have sent a sexually explicit ‘love letter’ to an inmate. He denies the allegations.

Sources have told The Mail on Sunday that a ‘sex-for-favours culture’ existed at the prison, which houses offenders convicted of crimes ranging from theft and drug-smuggling to manslaughter. Part of the police investigation is understood to focus on extraordinary claims that prison officers had sex in the library at Downview, a closed jail in Sutton.

‘It involved the same group of girls who would then be granted favours, mainly day release and, in some cases, protection from bullying,’ said a source.

Last week, Downview was placed on ‘lockdown’, with inmates confined to cells while police carried out enquiries. A mattress was said to have been removed for DNA analysis.

The governor of the prison, Ian Murray, has taken early retirement but the Ministry of Justice said his departure was ‘totally unrelated’. It is understood an inmate, 23-year-old Lizzi Stanley – who was not involved in any of the alleged incidents – reported concerns to prison authorities late last year.

Her mother, Terri Stanley, said: ‘Lizzi made a complaint to guards at the prison, naming Mr Thorne and others, but nothing changed. I wrote to the prison several times raising the issues, but with no response.’

She claimed the investigation began in earnest only when she contacted police on December 13. Mrs Stanley also raised the matter with her Conservative MP, Maria Miller, on February 5.

On February 18, she received a letter from Mrs Miller saying: ‘I will speak to my colleague who looks after prisons and raise your concerns, which I am sure he will be very interested to hear.’

Mrs Stanley, who visits other inmates as well as her daughter, said: ‘All the girls were talking about it but no one was doing anything about it. They were telling me the guards were having sex with the girls in return for day releases.

‘Girls were worried that if they reported it, the prisoners involved would be angry because they would lose their privileges.

‘They also didn’t want to get in trouble with the guards. After my daughter complained, she was told by one prison officer that he could make her sentence become very difficult.’

Mrs Stanley – whose husband Harry was shot dead by police in a notorious incident in London in 1999 when officers mistook the table leg he was carrying for a sawn-off shotgun – said that since making the complaint her daughter had been transferred to another prison.

The Mail on Sunday put a series of questions detailing the claims, and Mr Thorne’s alleged involvement, to the Ministry of Justice and Surrey Police. Both declined to respond in detail.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed the four suspensions over ‘allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards prisoners’.

Southern regional offender manager Paul Carroll added: ‘The Prison Service is committed to running a safe, decent, respectful regime within prison. We will take action against any members of staff who we suspect of inappropriate behaviour towards prisoners. This is now a matter for the police to investigate.’

Surrey Police said detectives were conducting ‘a criminal investigation following information provided by the Prison Service, which is co-operating fully with the police in their enquiries’.

Mr Thorne said from his home in Sutton yesterday: ‘I strongly deny these allegations. I will be fighting them. I have been suspended from the prison while these matters are investigated.’

He said he was expecting to be interviewed by police ‘in the near future’, adding: ‘I worked as an acting governor for a short while but my role at the prison is principal officer.’

Downview, which holds 350 women, was the first UK jail to launch a prisoner-led television channel when, in 2006, T.I.M.E. TV began showing true-life prisoner stories, debates and interviews. Male officers were first allowed in women’s prisons, and vice versa, in 1989 but there have been scandals.

In 2007, two male guards were suspended from Holloway jail in North London. One had allegedly had an affair with a prisoner while another was accused of sexual assault. Both inmates were serving life for murder.

And in 2006, a female prison officer was awarded £145,000 in compensation for sexual discrimination after being made to carry out intimate ‘rub-down’ searches of male inmates. Carol Saunders claimed it was ‘degrading, distasteful and dehumanising’ as prisoners subjected her to taunts such as ‘higher, miss, higher’ during leg searches.