Inmate serving murder life sentence caught running Winchester jail smuggling ring

Ben Carr, 25, of HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire.
Ben Carr, 25, of HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire.

THIS WEEK IN 1992: Police officers attacked by gang

A SMUGGLING gang run by two cell mates brought phones and steroids into Winchester prison, a court heard.

Serving prisoners – including Ben Carr who is serving 30 years for hiring a thug to kill a mother-of-five – have been sentenced.

Winchester Prison

Winchester Prison

Prosecutor Jodie Mittell told how Carr and cell mate Suritai Phanthiva led the gang, which included Carr’s sister, mum-of-one Danielle.

Messages swapped between the gang revealed how prisoners would get family members to pay up to £200 per phone.

In one case a grandmother of an inmate at Winchester, not in the dock, paid £10,000 for contraband ‘under pressure from her grandson’.

Financial investigators discovered £47,000 in cash and bank transfers were linked to the smuggling ring.

Danielle Carr, 30, of Hawkhill, Dibden.

Danielle Carr, 30, of Hawkhill, Dibden.

In one case Sophie Lennards got involved because she did not believe Ben Carr had been properly convicted over mother-of-five Pennie Davis’s death, Southampton Crown Court heard.

Messages between the Carrs revealed Danielle said it took her an ‘hour to take 300 pills’ out so they could be packaged – and she picked up the contraband from man who looked like the ‘Hulk’.

Her brother, who was jailed for conspiracy to murder in 2015, asked in June that she get ‘more mobile phones, preferably one with a camera’.

The court heard Rebecca Vaughan ‘thought she was supplying phones to people inside so that they could ring their loved ones at home’.

Sophie Lennards, 30, of Faircross Close, Holbury.

Sophie Lennards, 30, of Faircross Close, Holbury.

But in reality the court heard phones were being supplied so prisoners could run other illicit operations.

Police discovered the network when a phone was seized and Rhonda Pack, of Gosport, was later stopped visiting Christopher Byles.

‘Ultimately the network is completely disrupted in January 2016 when Miss Pack was stopped in the visitors hall in Winchester where she was due to visit Mr Byles and found to have 97 oxy tablets in her bra,’ Ms Mittell said.

Danielle Carr had earlier phoned prison authorities telling them of Pack as she feared she was selling the drugs outside the gang.

Suritai Phanthiva, 27, of HMP Erlestoke, Wilthshire.

Suritai Phanthiva, 27, of HMP Erlestoke, Wilthshire.

Judge Nicholas Rowland said the prison service is battling inmates running ‘commercial businesses’.

Sentencing, he said: ‘These were well-organised conspiracies and associated money laundering offences to smuggle mobile phones and ancillary equipment as well as drugs, namely steroids, into Winchester prison.

‘The associated money laundering offences demonstrate the commercial nature of prison smuggling in this country because this was a commercial enterprise in the same way that street drug dealing is, and in prison the impact of prohibited items is multiplied exponentially.

‘The fallout inside is also multiplied exponentially, with the potential for fights and worse to occur when disputes arise over the contraband.

‘These were not cases of a wife or girlfriend smuggling the odd item for a husband or boyfriend in prison.’

There was also ‘pressure brought on relatives’ of those inside buying phone,’ he said.

He said: ‘The ramifications are widespread which is why these are serious offences.

‘However hard the prison works, inmates are running commercial businesses inside. That’s why the sentences have to reflect the problems that these offences cause.’

He added: ‘Something in the region of £47,000 was flowing about as a result of the activities of these defendants.’

A Prison Service spokesperson said: ‘We take a zero tolerance approach to drugs in our prisons, and are clear that anyone found with contraband will be subject to disciplinary action and police investigations.

‘We are taking unprecedented action to stop the supply and use of drugs, including an innovative new drug testing programme, over 300 dogs to detect psychoactive substances, and making it a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances in prison.

‘We have also set up a specialist team of prison and police officers to tackle the threat of drones, and to bring to justice those bringing contraband in to our prisons. These reforms have seen 225kg of illicit drugs recovered from prisons in 2016 alone.

‘To tackle drugs in prison we have: implemented an innovative new drug testing programme, the first in the world to routinely test for psychoactive substances; trained over 300 drug detection dogs to specifically detect psychoactive substances and made it a criminal offence to possess any psychoactive substance in a custodial institution.

‘We have also taken swift action to stop the supply of drugs into our prisons, equipping all prisons with portable and fixed detectors to tackle illicit use of phones in prisons. We are working with the police to catch and convict criminal using drones to smuggle contraband into prisons, and testing physical and technological countermeasures to stop incursions.

‘It is a criminal offence to bring a mobile phone into prison, or transmit sounds or images from within a prison using a mobile phone. These offences carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

‘In November 2016 we set out a range of measures in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper to tackle violence, drugs and mobile phones, as well as increasing staffing levels by 2,500 prison officers.’

FIVE JAILED

FIVE people were jailed for their parts in the conspiracy bringing phones and drugs into prison.

Those in the dock were:

• Ben Carr, 25, of HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, was sentenced to three years on top of his life term with a minimum of 30 years.

• Danielle Carr, 30, of Hawkhill, Dibden, was handed 12 months in jail.

• Connie Rooke, 26, of Park Mews, Park Gate, was given a four-month term suspended for two years. She has no previous convictions.

• Rebecca Vaughan, 24, of Primrose Close, Chandler’s Ford, was sentenced to eight months.

• Sophie Lennards, 30, of Faircross Close, Holbury, was sentenced to 15 months.

• Suritai Phanthiva, 27, of HMP Erlestoke, Wilthshire, was handed three years consecutive to his current indeterminate sentence for imprisonment for public protection. He was previously given 16 months for conspiring to convey phones into the prison.

• Christopher Byles, 28, of Minnitt Road, Gosport, and Rhonda Pack, 21, of Greenway Road, Gosport, will be sentenced on October 19 after pleading guilty at the hearing.

Both Carrs, Phanthiva, Byles, Vaughan, Lennards and Pack admitted conspiring to bring, throw or convey mobile phones, a list B article into Winchester prison between February 2015, and March 2016.

Phanthiva, both Carrs, Byles, Lennards, Pack admitted conspiring to bring, throw or convey controlled drugs, a list A article, into Winchester prison between June 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.

Vaughan, Danielle Carr and Rooke also admitted entering into and being concerned in a money laundering arrangement.

Vaughan admitted possession of criminal property in relation to the cash found at her home.