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Holiday hell British chef found dead in jail was about to be charged with murder of Irishman John Pender

Police said at the time acupuncturist dad-of-two Mr Pender, from Shankill in south Co Dublin, was targeted after asking his alleged killer to stop pestering his charity boss wife Caroline McGuigan and the partner of a pal he was with.

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Leigh Anthony Gardiner (centre), who allegedly murdered John Pender in the toilets of a pub in Spain, has died in his Spanish prison cell. Photo: Solarpix.com

Leigh Anthony Gardiner (centre), who allegedly murdered John Pender in the toilets of a pub in Spain, has died in his Spanish prison cell. Photo: Solarpix.com

Leigh Anthony Gardiner (centre), who allegedly murdered John Pender in the toilets of a pub in Spain, has died in his Spanish prison cell. Photo: Solarpix.com

A BRITISH chef found dead in his prison cell had been warned he was about to be charged with the murder of an Irish holidaymaker.

A forensic psychologist had also determined Leigh Anthony Gardiner was fit to stand trial and could not plead an insanity defence.

The 51-year-old was put on suicide watch after his June 2019 arrest for the savage Costa del Sol killing of "gentle giant" Irish holidaymaker John Pender in front of his wife and friends.

Investigators heading two separate probes are expected to rule he killed himself at Alhaurin de la Torre prison near Malaga a fortnight ago after the twin setbacks.

A court source said: “The state prosecutor had indicated at a hearing shortly before the inmate was found dead that he was going to proceed with an indictment for a crime of murder.

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The late John Pender

The late John Pender

The late John Pender

“He hadn’t yet specified the length of the prison sentence he’d be demanding if he got a conviction.

“A forensics report had also been submitted to the investigating judge which stated he could be considered criminally responsible for his actions and there was nothing preventing him from being tried and convicted in the event he was found guilty.”

Expat dad-of-two Gardiner was arrested in the early hours of June 21, 2019 after allegedly attacking his alleged victim with two broken bottles while he was using the loo at the Pogs Old Irish Rock Pub in the popular holiday resort of Fuengirola.

Police said at the time acupuncturist dad-of-two Mr Pender, from Shankill in south Co Dublin, was targeted after asking his alleged killer to stop pestering his charity boss wife Caroline McGuigan and the partner of a pal he was with.

The tragic holidaymaker was going to the toilet and had no chance to defend himself as he was stabbed several times in the neck and body.

One of the blows is believed to have severed his jugular vein.

Police who happened to be passing by the pub where the crime occurred tried to save the tourist’s life, but he bled to death in front of them.

He was on holiday with his wife, founder of charity Suicide or Survive, and their two children Conor, then 21, and 18-year-old Amy who were not in the pub at the time.

Mr Pender, a qualified acupuncturist who trained in China, was on the board of his wife’s charity.

Murder in Spain now carries a life sentence in some cases in Spain following a change in the law.

Gardiner, found dead at breakfast-time roll call on December 30, could have been in line for a 25-year sentence if he was convicted of Mr Pender’s murder.

It is thought he was trying to plead diminished responsibility as part of a defence strategy. Formal charges in Spain are only laid shortly before trial.

A source close to the case said: “The expert report stating he was fit to stand trial would have been a major blow for his defence lawyers and could have gone a long way to explaining why he might have wanted to end his own life.”

A neighbour of the dead man in Shankill described Mr Pender as a “fantastic, friendly man and a gentle giant” after he was killed.

The neighbour said: “He’d do anything for you. If the weather was bad, he would often knock in here to see if I needed anything in the shop.”

Mr Pender’s wife described Gardiner as “a coward” at the celebration of his life nearly 18 months ago at Fitzpatrick Hotel in Killiney.

Caroline McGuigan, who has yet to comment on Gardiner’s death in prison, added: “John never feared death because he said life is for living.

“If you said ‘Why John? He would say, ‘why not?’

“He would say every morning, ‘I got to wake up’ and in the evening he would say, ‘I got a day.’”

Family friend Rob Carley, host of the two-hour celebration, said: “John didn’t have an angry bone in his body.

“He was a pacifist; he’d walk away from trouble.”

Prison workers’ association TAMPM has said in a statement, identifying the dead man only by his initials: “We regret to have to confirm the death of an inmate in Module Five of Alhaurin de la Torre Prison.

“The 51-year-old foreigner L.A.G was discovered dead in his cell during morning roll call on December 30.

“Prison workers found him lying lifeless on his bed when they opened the cell.

“He appeared to have died several hours earlier and nothing could be done to save him.

“Evidence found at the scene appeared to indicate it wasn’t a natural death but investigations by the relevant professionals are underway.

A Spanish Prison Service source added: “The separate judicial and internal Prison Service investigations are ongoing and there won’t be any official comment on the possible cause of death at this stage.”

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