Sex Offenders Among 15 Freed After Ruling

Sex offenders are among 15 long-serving prisoners who were freed from prison this week after a House of Lords ruling. The Home Secretary, John Reid, had challenged an Appeal Court ruling that an arsonist, Paul Stellato, was entitled to unconditional release under 1991 legislation after serving three quarters of a 10-year sentence.

Mr Reid had argued that he was in fact covered by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 under which prisoners are entitled to be released on licence halfway through their sentences. However, the Act makes them liable to recall for the remaining half if they break the conditions of their licence. Mr Reid’s appeal was dismissed by five law lords on Wednesday after an expedited hearing last week. They will give their reasons later.

The Home Office refused to identify the 15 other prisoners affected by the decision but it is thought they could include violent and sex offenders. Those who posed a potential risk would be monitored in the community, a spokesman said.

Sources said they did not include any murderers, who would have been on a life licence, or rapists. There are understood to be two sex offenders whose crimes, though serious, did not include rape. There are also a number jailed for “nasty assaults”.

The source said: “We are not talking about the extreme end, such as murderers. It is the middle tier. But they are nasty offenders who got more than four years and have been re-offending.”

Stellato, 35, was arrested in June 1998 and later given 10 years’ imprisonment for arson with intent to endanger life. As required by the Criminal Justice Act 1991, he was released at the three-quarter point of his sentence in December 2005 — but recalled the following month after a breach of his licence.

The Court of Appeal held that Stellato was not on licence after December 2005 and so not liable to recall. However, the appeal judges agreed that Stellato should remain in prison pending Mr Reid’s appeal.

Dismissing that appeal on Wednesday, the law lords ordered Stellato’s immediate release. Because he was wrongly detained for 14 months, he may now be entitled to compensation.

In a statement yesterday, the Home Office said it was “disappointed” by the decision.