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Licence to kiIl, maim and rape again

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IN January 2003, PC Gerald ‘Ged’ Walker, a dog handler with the Nottingham Police, was killed by David Parfitt a criminal who had been released from prison a year earlier after serving two years for robbery. Under post-release supervision by the probation service, his behaviour soon made it clear he was not to be trusted and he should have been recalled to prison. [1]

Despite the widespread publicity given to the death of PC Walker and the attention drawn to the hazards of supervisors allowing dangerous criminals to slip off their radar, numerous similar examples continued to surface. In 2008, for example, a vicious criminal called Dano Sonnex, on licence following his early release from jail, murdered two young French students. Again, the warning signs he exhibited prior to the killings were ignored, and in some instances not even noticed, by his probation supervisors. 

A year later, a Home Office inspection across ten London boroughs found that in almost half of the 276 cases examined, probation officers had not learned the lessons highlighted by the previous killings carried out by supervised offenders. These included a failure to take breach action; failure to carry out home visits; supervising officer negligence; poor record-keeping; no risk assessment or supervision plan; failure by managers to manage effectively; lack of communication, and no cover for supervising officers when they were sick or on leave. [2]

But whether probation officers are lax or follow all the rules associated with supervising violent offenders in the community is irrelevant. Such offenders are not monitored twenty-four hours a day, and if they were, even an alert probation supervisor could not stop a determined and violent criminal from striking again. Double killer David Cook was monitored by the probation service following his release from prison in 2009, having served 21 years for the murder of Sunday school teacher Beryl Maynard in 1987. In 2011, Cook’s probation team, assiduously following the rules, visited him at his home. The record of their visit said that Cook behaved perfectly normally, offered them coffee, was relaxed and happy to talk to them. Meanwhile the corpse of Cook’s neighbour, Leonard Hill, lay in the bedroom directly above where they were sitting. Cook had strangled him two days earlier. [3]

The figures for the number of killings, rapes and woundings by offenders being monitored by the probation service are chilling, and provide compelling evidence that the examples referred to above cannot be dismissed as anecdotal. They are replicated by the hundreds every year and dash the myth that dangerous repeat offenders can be managed safely in the community.

The total for eight of the most serious violent crime categories (murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape, manslaughter, kidnap, arson and ‘other serious sex and violent crimes’) committed by supervised offenders for the period 1998-2014 computes to a yearly average of 281 or five per week. [4] The comparable figure for the more recent period 2012-2016 is 457 or nine per week, a 63 per cent increase. 

To take two categories, for the period 1998-2014 the average number of murders per year committed by supervised offenders was 13. For the period 2012-2016 it was 76. For rape, the comparable figures were 52 and 204.

A 2018 report showed that the problem is as serious as ever. In the twelve previous months it was necessary for the Probation Inspectorate to carry out 627 serious further offence reviews. These highlighted poor standard of oversight, with large numbers of dangerous offenders being supervised by telephone calls every six weeks instead of at face-to-face meetings. 

We should not be mesmerised by these figures, and whether they are going up or down is not the main point. There should not be any such offences. All those trusted with early release on licence have been assessed as safe to let out, and therefore we should expect that they present no danger to the public. But the level of violence associated with prisoners released under supervision shows this to be a pipe dream. Despite reporting on it for at least the last 25 years, our justice officials have resolutely failed to bring this debacle to an end. 

Instead they indulge in the dark arts of obfuscation to mask the scale of the problem. For example, in 2008 they decided not to include Section 18 Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) offences in their count, even though this crime is regarded as the most serious form of violence next to murder. [5] The impact of this statistical sleight of hand can be seen from the fact that when it was introduced, the number of reported offences in the category ‘other serious sex and violent crimes’ fell from 367 to 81.

The probation service has been given an impossible task, and the chief crime of its senior management is not to have had the courage or sense of public duty to say so. As a result, staff must pretend they can protect the public. The ethos of denial this has produced is illustrated by the report of one senior probation manager, following an inspection of work carried out by her staff, as follows:

‘In the four-month period under review, there have been nine serious further offences committed by criminals currently under our supervision. The investigations of these crimes have revealed that in none of these cases could we have done anything to prevent the crime. In all of them, the government’s national standards, governing how we should supervise the offender concerned, were followed to the letter. This is a good achievement.’

So it might be from the point of view of the blinkered probation bureaucracy, which first and foremost wants to avoid blame. But for the public in the real world, nine serious crimes such as murder and rape committed in the space of just four months, in just one small probation area, by criminals thought safe enough to be in the community, was anything but a good achievement. If this was a good result, what would a bad one be like?

In February 2013, the then Prime Minister David Cameron visited India and described the 1919 massacre of 379 demonstrators at Amritsar by the British Army as ‘shameful’. This publicly expressed sensitivity is in stark contrast to his silence in relation to the 2,348 homicides committed in his own country between 2010, when he came into office, and 2013 when he made the Amritsar speech. Many of these were committed by criminals allowed to roam because of lenient sentencing endorsed by his government, despite the violent histories of the killers concerned.

Offenders who can be trusted to live in the community do not need supervision. Those who do need supervision, therefore, cannot be trusted, and should not be in the community.

References

1 ‘Probation system failed to stop constable’s killer’, the Times, 26 March 2004

2 Home Office Probation Circular 36/97: Serious Incident Reports: Analysis

3 ‘Copycat killing by murderer 25 years on’, Mail Online, 21 April 2012

4 Fraser, D: Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence (2018) p121

5 Ministry of Justice, Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis 2012, reports that Probation Circular 22/2008 excludes section 18 wounding from the crimes included in the statistics for serious further offending by supervised criminals.

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David Fraser
David Fraser is the author of Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence. He is a former senior probation officer and criminal intelligence analyst with the National Criminal Intelligence Service (now the National Crime Agency).

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