Prison nurse sacked after 'having a relationship with a prisoner'

Prison nurse who was sacked after being accused of having a relationship with a prisoner and smuggling drugs into jail loses unfair dismissal claim

  • Nurse Samantha Ketterer was accused of having relationship with prison inmate 
  • NHS worker kept in touch with the inmate via contraband phone, tribunal heard 
  • Records showed she accessed his information an ‘excessive’ number of times
  • Miss Ketterer brought unfair dismissal claim to tribunal but decision was upheld

A female prison nurse who was sacked after being accused of having a romantic relationship with a prisoner and smuggling drugs into jail has lost her unfair dismissal claim. 

The inmate claimed NHS worker Samantha Ketterer had expressed feelings towards him and that he had used a contraband mobile phone to keep in touch with her for ‘several months’.

Miss Ketterer was suspended after intelligence reports suggested she had been ‘compromised’ amid allegations she had been offered money to bring drugs into HMP Low Moss in Scotland.

The prison nurse was later dismissed for having an inappropriate relationship with the prisoner, after records showed that she had accessed his information an ‘excessive’ number of times.

She claimed she was unfairly dismissed, but her case was thrown out by an employment tribunal in Glasgow.

NHS nurse Samantha Ketterer was sacked after she was accused of having a romantic relationship with an inmate at HMP Low Moss, an employment tribunal heard

Miss Ketterer started working at the prison on the outskirts of Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire in April 2019.

In September that year, a psychologist working at the prison reported that a patient – referred to in the tribunal only as ‘Patient A’ – had disclosed, unprompted, during a therapy session he had been having an inappropriate relationship with an NHS nurse called Samantha.

The tribunal heard the prisoner told her the relationship had been going on for several months and that he used a contraband mobile telephone to contact the nurse.

He claimed he had offered her money towards car repairs, and that she agreed to bring a drugs package into the prison, though it was not confirmed by Patient A whether these events actually took place.

HMP Low Moss: Scottish medium-security facility which once held child killer John Leathem

HMP Low Moss is based on the outskirts of Bishopbriggs in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

Approximately 750 male prisoners over the age of 21 are held at the medium-security facility, and between 25 and 30 NHS staff were employed there.

In the past one of the prison’s most infamous inmates was John Leathem, who murdered 15-year-old student Paige Doherty in 2016 after stabbing her 61 times.

He had to be transferred to a protection wing 75 miles away at HMP Dumfries, which houses the country’s most notorious sex offenders, after prison staff at Low Moss uncovered a plot by other inmates to kill Leathem.

Patient A also alleged Miss Ketterer was having similar relationships with other prisoners and had been in touch with his sister.

The following month the nurse was returning to the prison from her evening tea break when a strip of medication in the pocket of her uniform sounded the security alarm.

The tribunal heard she was taken to the office of Anette Dryburgh, Head of SPS Operations. Ms Dryburgh explained she had received a number of ‘intelligence reports’ suggesting Miss Ketterer had been ‘compromised’.

When questioned, Miss Ketterer said she had not felt pressured by any of the prisoners or felt unsafe. 

She was also asked if she had done anything outside the scope of her work, and she said she had only performed her role as a nurse.

At the end of the meeting Miss Ketterer’s bag and locker were searched and she was removed from the prison and took sick leave before being suspended from duty by the Greater Glasgow Health Board while an investigation was launched.

The psychologist Dr Claire Ogilvie was interviewed in June 2020 and she explained how she asked Patient A whether the relationship was of a romantic nature. 

He had said ‘the nurse had expressed romantic feelings towards him, but he did not feel the same way’, the tribunal heard.

Miss Ketterer denied having had any form of inappropriate relationship with the inmate or bringing contraband into prison.

Ms Dryburgh told the investigation she had received various pieces of intelligence from multiple sources who saw Miss Ketterer ‘spending a lot of time with Patient A, taking him into one of the nurse’s rooms and going into his cell’. 

She explained how Scottish Prison Services (SPS) staff are meant to be able to see into the nurses’s room, but Miss Ketterer ‘kept looking at the window and staring at the staff as if she did not want them to be looking in’. 

The tribunal heard Miss Ketterer did not answer any of the questions put to her during the investigation, was ‘very unemotional’ and had been going through ‘a very turbulent time in her personal relationship’ at that time. 

Between April and October 2019, Miss Ketterer made 2,122 entries on the system for logging clinical interventions with prisoners for a total of 662 patients. 

There were an average of three entries per patient, whereas Patient A had 72 entries recorded.

The prison nurse claimed she was unfairly dismissed, but her case was thrown out by an employment tribunal in Glasgow (pictured, HMP Low Moss)

Ms Dryburgh said the number of interventions concerned her as Patient A did not have significant health needs that required regular nursing intervention.

The report also showed Miss Ketterer had checked Patient A’s records 17 times after days off and periods of annual leave or sickness but did not then record any clinical intervention.

A disciplinary hearing took place in December 2020 where Miss Ketterer ‘displayed no emotion’. 

While there was no evidence of her bringing contraband into the prison, it was ruled her actions ‘resulted in an irreparable breakdown in trust in the employment relationship’.

She was dismissed due to ‘unprofessional conduct, serious breaches of confidentiality, accessing computer records or files with no authority, blatant and serious breach of policies and procedures, and action which is likely to bring the NHS into disrepute’.

Miss Ketterer insisted that she had been unfairly dismissed and brought a claim to an employment tribunal in Glasgow.

Her claim was dismissed, with Employment Judge Beyzade Beyzade stating: ‘(Miss Ketterer’s) conduct was a sufficient reason to justify summary dismissal.

‘Full consideration had been given to alternative outcomes before taking the decision to terminate (her) employment.

‘It was clear that given the seriousness of (Miss Ketterer’s) misconduct, the nature of the misconduct, and its potential impact on patient and public confidence together with the breakdown in trust and confidence in the employment relationship this could not be considered.’

Approximately 750 male prisoners over the age of 21 are held at the medium-security facility, and between 25 and 30 NHS staff were employed there. 

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