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Prison officer jailed for misconduct

17 October 2019

A PRISON officer has been jailed for misconduct in a public office after having an inappropriate relationship with a serving prisoner.

Prison officer Rachel Barnes, 29, became involved in the inappropriate relationship with Sebastian Vassell, 28, while working at HMP Belmarsh. Upon discovery of the relationship, Barnes was charged with misconduct in a public office and Vassell with sending messages from prison unauthorised. They both pleaded guilty to the respective charges at previous court hearings.

On 10 October, Barnes was sentenced to 10 months in jail, and Vassell was sentenced to six months concurrent on each charge, but consecutive to the sentence he is currently serving, at Croydon Crown Court.

Suspicion was raised when Barnes started going missing for extended periods whilst on shift at HMP Belmarsh. This led to Barnes being invited to a ‘challenge meeting’, by management where she denied all wrongdoing. However, when she was told that there was CCTV available of her missing for periods of time, Barnes became emotional and confessed to being in an inappropriate relationship with Vassell. 

A search was then conducted of Barnes’ locker and car, where messages were found on her phones to Vassell. Vassell was found with two prohibited phones in his cell.

Preetpaul Dhillon, from the CPS, said, “Barnes was working in a high security prison in a position of paid employment amongst dangerous lawbreakers. Vassell was an offender serving a sentence for serious firearm offences.

“On one occasion when Barnes was on duty, she was in a cell for 19 minutes engaging in inappropriate behaviour with Vassell. She hid from her colleague when he checked the cell on two occasions, clearly showing she recognised what she was doing was wrong. However, this was not a one-off incident. Rather, it was a pattern of behaviour in which she allowed a prisoner to have the use of a mobile phone and sent him repeated messages, some of which were of a sexual nature.

“Barnes’ behaviour clearly falls into the category of wilful misconduct, and to such a degree that it amounted to an abuse of the public’s trust. She will now have to face the consequences of her actions in relation to future employment opportunities.”