Ex-victims’ champion warns ‘system is broken’ and calls for parole transparency

Former victims’ commissioner Baroness Newlove has warned that the “system is broken” when it comes to taking care of victims in the criminal justice system.

The Conservative peer, who is currently serving as the Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords, called for greater transparency when it comes to the parole system.

She opened up on her own experience after the murder of her husband Garry Newlove as the upper chamber debated a regret motion over changes to the parole process.

Lady Newlove said: “I speak here as a mother of three daughters who witnessed every kick and punch to their father, to say, the system is broken.”

She added that the public has “no confidence in the criminal justice system where victims are concerned”.

Lady Newlove’s husband Garry was beaten to death in August 2007 after confronting a teenage gang he suspected of vandalising his wife’s car outside their home in Warrington.

In January 2008, 19-year-old Adam Swellings, 17-year-old Stephen Sorton and 16-year-old Jordan Cunliffe were convicted of his murder and sentenced to 17, 15, and 12 years in prison respectively.

Lady Newlove was made a peer in the wake of her work on youth crime in the aftermath of the tragedy and served as victims’ commissioner for England and Wales from 2012 to 2019.

Fifteen years on from the murder, the two younger killers have each been paroled, while the oldest is still in prison.

Lady Newlove told peers how the appeals route for victims when they disagree with a parole hearing result is “not easy”.

Firstly, she explained, one has to put forward their reasons for appealing and why they disagree with the parole hearing’s result.

In her case, this submission was sent to the justice secretary at the time, Robert Buckland.

Lady Newlove described how his team “worked on it without my views or anything else, apart from what I had written through my liaison officer.

“It then went to this office, who then recommended that it should be reviewed.

“What I want to draw this chamber to is the absolute information that victims receive, and in bold letters from the parole board, it says that no matter what goes through, the parole board do not change their mind.

“I am saying for a victim that is absolutely appalling – to think there is a process for victims to go through, but to see that in bold.”

Decrying the lack of transparency throughout this process, Lady Newlove added: “The fact the media pick up these stories, I’m very grateful, because I find out more information about my case when actually I should have known personally by the system itself.”

She added that the system needs “a good overhaul”, adding that we need “transparency within this, because I hear from parole board members ‘it’s a courtroom’ – well, if it’s a courtroom, it should be transparent for victims to fully understand why that decision was made…

“We need transparency, we need public confidence and victims have a right to know and understand and be treated with dignity.”

On her experience, Lady Newlove said: “I have for the last 15 years attended every parole hearing, tariff review hearing and also, in my role as victims’ commissioner, shadowed parole hearings.

“I have also worked when we had the Warboys case review and, while there was put an appeals system in place, the bar is so high that actually it feels that its a waste of time.

“I’ve been through that appeal, I’ve been through what anybody else would have to go through, no favours or anything.”

She called on the Government to introduce a draft victims bill “for our voices to actually be listened to”.

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