Leyhill open prison boss Michael Morris stole from jail
A FORMER deputy governor of Leyhill open prison has narrowly avoided being locked up himself, after admitting stealing computers from the jail.
A court heard Michael Morris kept two Apple Mac Pro laptops, a Samsung Netbook laptop, a BeBook e-reader and a Polaroid camera he was issued during his time in the position from December 2009 to March 2010. The 45-year-old was then offered a new job at a jail on remote St Helena in the south Atlantic – famous as the place where Napoleon was exiled after Waterloo – and never returned any of the equipment when he left.
He even sold one of the laptops on auction website eBay for £1,000 to help pay for a caravan.
The total value of the items came to £4,500, North Avon Magistrates' Court heard yesterday.
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Morris, who had worked in the prison service for 24 years, could give no reason for his actions, except that his depression at the time may have lead to "seriously flawed thinking".
The court heard that Morris, who now lives in New Road, West Huntspill near Highbridge, had been issued with the Samsung computer and e-reader as part of his job.
He was also issued the Polaroid camera as he ran the prison's camera club for other staff members.
Graham Dono, prosecuting, told how Morris would take pictures with the camera and then display them to other members on the Netbook.
"He often took the items home and sometimes they were kept at his home address," he said.
"The e-reader was used when he attended conferences and he would often take that home as well."
Mr Dono said that in October 2010 Morris was offered a job at a prison in St Helena – one of the world's most remote islands, which is 1,400 miles from the nearest mainland point.
When he moved, the three items were packed with all of his belongings and moved to his new house.
Mr Dono said: "There may not have been dishonesty then but there was subsequent dishonesty in that Morris made no attempt to notify HMP Leyhill that he had the items, nor try to return them, even when he returned to the UK for a holiday.
"In February 2010, during his time as deputy governor, Morris was asked by the prison authorities if there was any equipment he needed as it was coming to the end of the financial year.
"He thought it would be useful in his prison work to have an Apple Mac laptop and one was ordered. After a delay in that order another one was subsequently ordered, and when both arrived they were delivered to Morris."
The court heard that Morris took both laptops home and subsequently sold one on eBay for £1,000.
Mr Dono said Morris had taken the second laptop to his new home in St Helena and that he had subsequently "disposed of it" because it had broken down.
Judy Hampton, defending, said: "He does not cite financial difficulties as the motivation behind these offences.
"The only explanation that can be put forward relates to his mental health. He has suffered from severe depression on-and-off for a number of years. He suspects his long term depression may have led to his seriously flawed thinking.
"He feels overwhelming guilt for his actions – they have led to the loss of his marriage, the loss of his job and the loss of his professional reputation."
The Netbook, e-reader and Polaroid camera were recovered by prison authorities but Morris must pay £3,616.62 compensation to HMP Leyhill for the two Apple laptops.
Magistrates sentenced Morris to a six-month suspended prison sentence for each offence.
Presiding magistrate Catherine Gunnery told him: "You abused your position of responsibility as deputy prison governor, where there was a degree of trust expected of you.
"If you had not pleaded guilty you would have received a nine-month sentence."
Morris, who had no previous convictions, was also ordered to complete a 12-week curfew from 8pm to 6am every day and to undertake 120 hours unpaid work.
He must also pay £85 court costs.