AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into the alleged smuggling of mobile phones into Winchester jail by prison officers, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The probe comes after a prison worker narrowly avoided jail after forming an inappropriate relationship with an inmate.

Sonya Knight, 22, operations support officer, admitted the relationship but denied it was sexual, a court heard.

The inmate Jack McRae, on being transferred from Winchester Prison, told a duty governor about it and claimed they had kissed through a broken observational panel in his cell door. Knight told police that McRae had once tried to kiss her hand but she pulled away.

Knight also told police that two other prison officers had illegally supplied a phone of McRae, the court heard.

A Hampshire police spokesman said her allegation was being investigated.

“We are actively working in partnership with HMP Winchester to tackle the criminality associated with mobile phone possession and use by prisoners. This includes taking enforcement action against friends and family who supply, top-up and communicate with prisoners’ illicit mobile phones.

“There is an ongoing investigation in relation to the phones referenced in this misconduct in a public office case.”

Knight wept in the dock as the court yesterday heard that she had been “groomed” last autumn.

She was persuaded to communicate with McRae and bought a Samsung mobile phone to contact him, said James Kellam, prosecuting.

He said: “She knew McRae had access to a phone and did not pass the information on to the relevant people so the phone could be seized and McRae sanctioned.

“McRae was interested in the relationship becoming a romantic one and it’s possible what McRae was doing was, I hesitate to the use the word, grooming, but he was trying to create a situation where Knight would be obliged to do more favours for him of an illicit nature.”

David Reid, mitigating, said Knight knew it was “a naive error of judgement... a single foolish occasion of giving McRae her phone number".

He added: "From that point onwards her position was compromised. That took place at the end of October last year. She accepts that from then on she was open to pressure and towards the end of his time in Winchester that pressure was duly applied.

“If you read the text messages towards the end of December there is waning enthusiasm on her part. Several text messages from him saying ‘why won’t you communicate?’ When she does it is short and terse.

“There is an element of grooming in the sense that McRae realised what he was doing was manipulating the situation.

“Since her arrest the defendant has co-operated fully. In interviews she provided the names of two prison officers she believed to have supplied phones to McRae. She doesn’t know what, if any, action resulted.”

Mr Reid said McRae was released from prison on April 1 and has persistently tried to contact her on social media. If he tries again she will complain to the police, said Mr Reid.

Knight, previously of good character, admitted one charge of misconduct in public office.

She was jailed for eight months but the sentence was suspended for 18 months. She was also ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work and £200 costs.

Sentencing Judge Susan Evans QC said it was a serious offence, undermining security and the rehabilitation of offenders.

“I’m told you have a trusting nature and you made a big mistake and gave your number to a manipulative individual, and once drawn in it was too late for you.”

Knight was not a full prison officer but an operations support officer, searching visitors and checking the grounds.

Knight, of Mirabella Close, Woolston, Southampton, declined to comment after the hearing.

A Prison Service spokesman said she had been sacked and added: “We welcome this sentence – there is no place for this kind of behaviour within the prison service.

“The vast majority of our staff are honest, hard-working professionals.

"Anyone who is found to be corrupt faces severe consequences and criminal prosecution.”

The service plans to to work with network operators to challenge them to do more, including developing new technological solutions to block mobile phones’ signals in prisons.

Legislation has been introduced to allow prisons to use signal-denying technology to suppress the use of wireless telegraphy such as mobile phones by prisoners.

Further legislation is being introduced to allow us to apply for a court order to compel mobile network operators to disconnect illicit mobile phones being used in a prison.