Mental health nurse and prison inmate who became lovers among 16 jailed after £1m drug-smuggling plot uncovered

27 October 2023, 22:17 | Updated: 27 October 2023, 22:22

The mental health nurse assistant formed a relationship with an inmate before being recruited into the drug-smuggling ring.
The mental health nurse assistant formed a relationship with an inmate before being recruited into the drug-smuggling ring. Picture: South Yorkshire police

By Jenny Medlicott

A prison mental health nurse who started a relationship with an inmate has been jailed alongside 15 others for their involvement in the UK's biggest-ever prison drug-smuggling ring.

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Amy Hatfield, 38, a mental health nursing assistant at HMP Lindholme in South Yorkshire, has been sentenced to more than 10 years in jail.

Hatfield started a relationship with an inmate at the prison before she “flooded” the jail with drugs.

She became “infatuated” with her lover, Joseph Whittingham, in 2018 and started a sexual relationship with him before she was recruited to the conspiracy.

Sixteen people involved in the ring were sentenced on Friday, with sentences totalling almost 90 years worth of time.

Sheffield Crown Court heard six of the defendants were serving prisoners who co-ordinated the smuggling ring and sold the items to other inmates.

Among the other 16 sentenced were partners, parents and siblings who were recruited to help smuggle prohibited items into the jail and launder the profits.

Whittingham, 35, played a “leading role” in the operation - also recruiting his wife Lucy and father Paul to take the profit made.

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Amy Hatfield and Joseph Whittingham.
Amy Hatfield and Joseph Whittingham. Picture: South Yorkshire police

Judge Watson said that Whittingham exploited Hatfield’s feelings for him, as she told the mental health nurse: "When (Whittingham) first expressed feelings for you, instead of reporting it to your supervisors as you were trained to do, you embraced it."

The pair went on to engage in a sexual relationship and exchange images, the court heard.

"It must have been clear to you the impact that increased drug use was having,” Judge Watson also told Hatfield.

“And yet you continued to flood HMP Lindholme with drugs and phones. You even brought in a knife.”

The number of incidents in the prison where inmates were found under the influence of drugs "significantly increased" during Hatfield's time there, it was heard.

Orders for the contraband would be placed through prison drug dealers Whittingham, 35, Jordan Needham, 31, Kieran Murphy, 26, Aneeze Williamson, 30, William Francis, 56, and convicted murderer Anthony Campbell, 38.

Nurse Hatfield was arrested after she was stopped and searched on her entry to work in October 2019.

She was found with £1 million worth of contraband, which included MDMA, ketamine, spice paper, anabolic steroids, mobile phones, tobacco, vials of testosterone and four Ribena bottles containing two litres of liquid spice.

Hatfield smuggled liquid spice into Ribena bottles.
Hatfield smuggled liquid spice into Ribena bottles. Picture: South Yorkshire police

Hatfield had been placed under surveillance after a tip-off reported that the nurse had begun a sexual relationship with Whittingham.

She had been paid £1,000 to carry the prohibited items and set up bogus mental health appointments to hand over packages.

In the years following her arrest, officers uncovered a “highly complex criminal network” operating in the prison.

The court heard that an inmate had died in September 2019 after taking spice, which toxicology tests found matched a batch of the drug recovered from Hatfield upon her arrest.

Another inmate who was sold spice by Jordan Needham, another of the conspirators, spent 10 days in a coma and lost the use of his legs and full sight in one of his eyes, it was said.

Judge Watson said the “well-run operation” had managed to go undetected for three years, as well as operate at two previous prisons.

"The amount of work that went into piecing together the activities of the network of criminals both in and out of the prison system, working to smuggle dangerous and illegal substances into HMP Lindholme for money, is considerable,” Det Sgt Gareth Gent, the head of South Yorkshire Police's prison crime anti-corruption unit, said.

"While I am pleased today's sentencing sees a number of this group behind bars, our work to tackle the smuggling of illegal items into prisons does not stop here. Prisons should be places of safety where inmates can get help and support as they work towards rehabilitation."

Damian Hands, the Prisons Minister, also said: "The vast majority of staff in our prisons are hardworking and honest, working every day to cut crime and protect the public.

"As this case shows, we will not hesitate to take the strongest possible action against those who think the rules do not apply to them."

The mental health nurse assistant also smuggled knives into the prison.
The mental health nurse assistant also smuggled knives into the prison. Picture: South Yorkshire police

Full list of offences and sentences

- Amy Hatfield, 38, of HMP New Hall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, conspiracy to convey phones into prison, conveying knives into prison and money laundering. She has been sentenced to 10 years and two months in prison.

- Joseph Whittingham, 35, of HMP Leeds, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, conspiracy to convey a knife into prison and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He has been sentenced to 11 years and four months in prison

- Anthony Campbell, 38, of HMP Dovegate, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He has been sentenced to 11 years in prison

- Deborah Stoddard (Anthony Campbell's mother), 56, of Shorefields Village, Liverpool, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, conspiracy to convey knives into prison, conspiracy to convey phones into prison, and money laundering. She has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison.

- Kieran Murphy, 26, of HMP Altcourse, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He was also found guilty by a jury after a four-day trial at Sheffield Crown Court in June 2023 of conspiring to convey knives into prison. He has been sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison

- Jordan Needham, 31, of HMP Dovegate, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison

- Courtney Ward (Jordan Needham's girlfriend), 26, of Harvey Close, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and conspiracy to supply class B drugs. She has been sentenced to four years and six months in prison

- Audrey Needham (Jordan Needham's mother), 56, of Comfrey Close, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs and money laundering. She has been sentenced to four years and three months in prison

- Leighton Kemp, 29, of Erewash Gardens, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, conspiracy to convey phones into prison, and money laundering. He has been sentenced to five years in prison

- Paul Whittingham, 59, of Halifax Road, Bradford, was found guilty of money laundering at trial. He was found not guilty of conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison, and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He was handed a 20-month suspended sentence and a community order in relation to the money laundering offence

- Lucy Whittingham, 37, from Bradford, pleaded guilty to money laundering. She has been handed a two-year suspended sentence and a community order

- William Francis, 56, of Hogan Gardens, Nottingham, pleaded guilty on the sixth day of his trial to possession with intent to supply drugs and conveying drugs into prison

- Lee Holmes, 44, of Sylvia Terrace, Stanley, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey drugs into prison and money laundering. He has been sentenced to two years and three months in prison

- Aneeze Williamson, 30, of HMP Leeds, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. He has been sentenced to five years and five months in prison

- Kora Haley (Aneeze Williamson's girlfriend), 30, of Holme Lane, Bradford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class B drugs, conspiracy to convey phones into prison and money laundering. She has been sentenced to three years and four months in prison

- Natalie Williamson (Aneeze Williamson's sister), 35, of West Royd Drive, Shipley, pleaded guilty to money laundering and being concerned in the supply of class B drugs. She has been sentenced to 12 months in prison

- Lydia Pinnington (Kieran Murphy's girlfriend), 23, of Clieves Road, Liverpool, pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering. She was cleared of conspiracy to convey drugs into prison and conspiracy to convey phones into prison. She was handed a 14-month suspended sentence and a community order in relation to the money laundering offence

A 17th defendant, William Francis, will be sentenced at a later date in December.

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