A PRISON officer at HMP Styal has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for criminal offences relating to her relationship with a prisoner.

Danielle Ashton, 30, was arrested last November on suspicion of misconduct in a public office and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Ashton was subsequently charged and admitted the offences, relating to her relationship with a prisoner, Niall Kiernan.

In May 2018, an investigation began into the author and contents of a report advanced to the Appeals Court in London in relation to serving HMP Dovegate prisoner Niall Kiernan.

In 2017, Kiernan was sentenced to an extended 27-year sentence at Manchester Crown Court for conspiracy to commit robbery and perverting the course of justice, a sentence which he appealed.

During the appeal, Kiernan’s counsel produced supporting evidence consisting of a report written by Danielle Ashton, entitled ‘Risk of Serious Harm Assessment’. The report made reference to Kiernan’s 'exceptional behaviour', referred to him as 'best-behaved' and worked in the 'most trusted' of jobs within the prison.

Ashton’s report concluded: “It is in my opinion that current evidence does not indicate a likelihood of Mr Kiernan causing serious harm.”

The appeals hearing was adjourned and concerns were voiced as to the report, which had not been requested and would not usually be completed by a prison officer.

A full internal investigation began and found that Ashton had met Kiernan when she was working at HMP Manchester and Kiernan was a serving prisoner.

The nature of their relationship remains unknown, but the investigation revealed that Ashton did not have the credentials, training or authority to complete the report on Kiernan, and had never been responsible for his welfare. She had no working contact with Kiernan since September 2017, when she transferred to HMP Styal. Additionally, evidence was discovered that showed Ashton worked on her completion of the report at home before emailing it back to the prison and then on to Kiernan's defence counsel.

The National Probation Service confirmed Ashton’s report was not reflective of the risks posed by Kiernan, and was inaccurate, selective and ‘flawed at best’. The National Probation Service would always be responsible for completing an assessment on any offender deemed as dangerous as in the case of Niall Kiernan.

Detective Chief Inspector Michael Ankers from North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU), said: “This was an outrageous but clumsy attempt to pervert the course of justice and try to hand a dangerous offender a reduced sentence.

“Due to diligence and knowledge shown across various law enforcement agencies, Ashton was identified and will now have to reflect on the consequence of her actions and the impact it will have on her future.

“This investigation is part of an ongoing partnership between Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the NWROCU and is another example of the work being taken collectively in trying to reduce corruption within the prison service.

“We know the vast majority of prison officers are dedicated professionals who carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism. But today’s activity is another positive step in tackling prison corruption in the north west and we will continue our efforts to bring offenders to justice.”