A British chef facing trial for the savage Costa del Sol murder of a ‘gentle giant’ Irish holidaymaker has been found dead in his jail cell.
Prison warders discovered Leigh Anthony Gardiner lying lifeless on his bed with shoelaces he is thought to have used to strangle himself with round his neck.
The 51-year-old was put on suicide watch after his June 2019 arrest for the murder of John Pender at an Irish pub in the popular resort of Fuengirola.
Prison warders discovered Leigh Anthony Gardiner lying lifeless on his bed with shoelaces he is thought to have used to strangle himself with round his neck. Above, Gardiner pictured in 2019
The 51-year-old was put on suicide watch after his June 2019 arrest for the murder of John Pender at an Irish pub in the popular resort of Fuengirola. File image of arrest above
Acupuncturist dad-of-two John, from Shankill in south Co Dublin, was attacked with two broken bottles after asking his alleged killer to stop pestering his charity boss wife Caroline McGuigan and the partner of a pal he was with.
Gardiner, a chef at a well-known Costa del Sol hotel resort, was being held at Alhaurin de la Torre prison near Malaga ahead of his trial.
Two investigations are now underway, an internal prison probe and a second led by police in conjunction with a local court.
Well-placed sources said the death was being treated as suicide and there was nothing at this stage pointing to foul play.
The dead Brit was discovered inside his cell at Alhaurin de la Torre’s Module Five last Wednesday morning.
The insider said: ‘He was found lifeless on his bed after failing to respond to morning roll-call.
‘He had been dead for several hours and nothing could be done to save him.’
Another added: ‘The death is still being investigated but everything is pointing towards suicide.
‘He had shoelaces knotted round his neck and he had left a note saying he was sorry to his family.’
Other sources confirmed Gardiner had been taken off suicide watch after being placed under an intensive monitoring programme when he initially arrived at the maximum-security prison.
Expat dad-of-two Gardiner was arrested in the early hours of June 21 2019 after allegedly attacking Mr Pender with two broken bottles while he was using the loo at the Pogs Old Irish Rock Pub
Prison workers’ association TAMPM 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, such as shoelaces tied around his neck, 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.’
Expat dad-of-two Gardiner was arrested in the early hours of June 21 2019 after allegedly attacking Mr Pender with two broken bottles while he was using the loo at the Pogs Old Irish Rock Pub.
Police said at the time the Irishman was targeted after politely asking the suspect to stop bothering his wife and the partner of a friend he was with.
Witnesses told detectives the dead man was attacked with two broken beer bottles as he was relieving himself 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 Caroline McGuigan, 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.
A source close to the probe revealed hours after the murder the suspect had no criminal record in Spain and was a chef at a well-known Costa del Sol hotel resort and was on his own for a few days because his wife and kids had gone on a foreign holiday.
Police said at the time the Irishman was targeted after politely asking the suspect to stop bothering his wife and the partner of a friend he was with
A neighbour of the dead man in Shankill described Mr Pender as a ‘fantastic, friendly man and a gentle giant.’
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 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.’