Criminals On Probation Murdered 98 In Two Years

Criminals under the supervision of the probation service have been convicted of nearly 100 murders and more than 500 other serious violent and sexual offences, including rape, over the past two years, according to official figures out yesterday.

The Home Office statistics confirm that high-profile murders such as the death of London banker John Monckton and Winchester woman Naomi Bryant by those under probation supervision were not isolated cases.

The figures come just two weeks after the home secretary, John Reid, criticised the performance of the probation service, saying that public confidence had been shaken by such high-profile failures. MPs will vote next Monday on a massive shakeup of the service including plans to open its work up to the private and voluntary sectors.

Broken down, the statistics show that people on probation were convicted of 60 murders between 2004/05 and there were convictions for a further 38 the following year. There were a total of 326 convictions for serious offences in 2004/05, including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, rape and arson. There were a further 288 in 2005/06 making a total of 614.

The final number may be even higher as more than 250 cases are still waiting to come to trial.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the figures demonstrated the importance of pushing through legislation to improve the assessment and management of all offenders in the community.

But she stressed that only a small fraction – 0.2% – of the 150,000 offenders supervised by the probation service each year in the community had been convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence during the two years.

“All incidents of serious further reoffending are taken very seriously, and we are determined to protect the public, even if risk can never be entirely eliminated. We have already introduced a range of tough new sentences that will help us protect the public from potentially dangerous offenders,” she said.

But the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, described the government’s complacency over the murders as a scandal. The shadow home secretary, David Davis, also described it as a “shocking indictment” of the government’s failure to protect the public. He said: “How much longer must the public pay the often lethal price of this failure?”

Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, claimed the level and nature of the reoffending was not surprising given the previous convictions and backgrounds of those on probation.

“Overall the number of further serious offences committed by people on probation has risen by 8%. This may reflect the fact that more people have been released early from prison than hitherto,” he said.

Estimating that one person a week was being murdered by someone on probation, Dee Warner, of Mothers against Murder and Aggression, said the government had failed to keep its promise to consider victims’ rights. “People say prison doesn’t work but it obviously works for that one family a week. It works for the rest of us, it keeps us safe,” she said.

Yesterday’s figures also confirm that the courts’ lack of confidence in alternatives to prison has driven up average sentences. The statistics show that the new “indeterminate sentence for public protection” introduced in April last year has proved very popular with the courts. More than 1,000 dangerous offenders have been sent to prison without a fixed release date.

The figures also show that the average sentence served by a prisoner on a “mandatory” life sentence is stable at 14 years but those given “discretionary” life sentences has dropped to six years.

The average minimum term – the tariff – for those on the new indeterminate sentence set by judges is 30 months but the Home Office said last night nearly all will serve much longer as they will only be released if and when the parole board considers they no longer pose a risk to the public.

The statistics also show that there were 78 deaths in custody in 2005 – a fall from 95 the previous year.

The imprisonment rate in England and Wales has reached 144 per 100,000 of the population and is once again the highest in western Europe – and even above those of Turkey and Korea.