British chef arrested for killing of Dublin man in Spain found dead in cell

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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 determined Leigh Anthony Gardiner, 51, was fit to stand trial and could not plead an insanity defence.

He was put on suicide watch after his June 2019 arrest for the Costa del Sol killing of “gentle giant” John Pender in front of his wife and friends.

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

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.

“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.”

Ex-pat dad-of-two Gardiner was arrested early on June 21, 2019.

He allegedly attacked Mr Pender with two broken bottles at the Pogs Old Irish Rock Pub in Fuengirola.

Police said Mr Pender, from Shankill in South Co Dublin, was targeted after asking his alleged killer to stop pestering his wife Caroline McGuigan and the partner of a pal he was with.

The 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 the dad-of-two’s jugular vein.

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

John Pender

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

Murder in Spain carries a life sentence in some cases in the country 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.

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 Mr Pender described him as a “fantastic, friendly man and a gentle giant”.

He added: “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 at Fitzpatrick Hotel in Killiney.

Caroline McGuigan, who has yet to comment on Gardiner’s death, 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.”

Jail workers’ association TAMPM said: “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.”

Source: Dublin News