‘Lackadaisical Approach’ Led To Bus Killing By Schizophrenic Man Freed On Bail, Inquiry Finds
The inquiry into the murder of a bus passenger stabbed to death by a paranoid schizophrenic man when the victim objected to him throwing chips at his girlfriend yesterday strongly criticised “lackadaisical and nonchalant” attitudes in the criminal justice system.
Anthony Joseph stabbed Richard Whelan seven times on the top deck of the No 43 bus in north London in July 2005 hours after he had been wrongly released from prison despite an outstanding warrant for his immediate arrest.
The inquiry report, published yesterday, reveals that when judges at Liverpool crown court issued the warrant for the arrest of Joseph over an alleged burglary they had no idea he was in custody at the time, because his police national computer (PNC) entry had not been updated.
At the same time, officials at the privately run Forest Bank jail in Manchester had no idea there was an outstanding arrest warrant for Joseph when he was released.
The joint inquiry by the inspectorates for the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the police and the Prison Service also found that officials at Forest Bank prison could not have checked on Joseph’s situation if they had wanted to because they had no direct access to the PNC. There are only 46 terminals with such access in the prison system.
The inspectors add that even if the prison had known about the warrant, it would still have had to release Joseph by law unless the police had been outside the prison gates waiting to arrest him.
The report says that the most striking feature of its findings does not relate to systems or processes but to the attitudes and culture within the criminal justice system to handling offences committed by defendants while they are out on bail.
“Whilst we recognise that the thousands of offenders passing through the criminal justice system each year include many who commit offences in multiple jurisdictions, there seems to be too ready an acceptance of the commission of offences while on bail, insufficient rigour in respect of checking the validity of proposed bail conditions and an apparent acceptance of the continual breach of bail conditions,” says the joint inquiry report.
This strong criticism of the failure of the courts, the police and the Prison Service to get to grips with burglaries and offences committed by Joseph while he was on bail relate to the period before he was jailed for two years.
Joseph was sent to Broadmoor secure hospital in December for killing Whelan, 28. He admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after being formally acquitted of murder when two trials failed to produce verdicts.
The inquiry found nothing to suggest that the criminal justice agencies involved should have been aware that Joseph was likely to commit an offence of extreme violence on his release or that he was suffering from an extreme mental illness.
“However, what we have found is what may best be described as a lackadaisical or nonchalant approach within the criminal justice system to many routine aspects of the handling of cases, the cumulative effect of which was to lead to the sequence of events which culminated on July 29 2005,” conclude the inspectors.
They recommend that prisons should have enhanced access rights to the PNC, with more rigorous checks when prisoners are released, and the adoption of an alert system for police forces when a wanted person is detained in custody.
The solicitor general, Vera Baird, said the government would accept most of the report’s recommendations, including revised guidance to prosecutors on giving bail to those convicted of offences. She said a consultation paper on bail and murder would be issued shortly.
The shadow justice secretary, Nick Herbert, said the report was another “damning indictment of the culture of complacency towards bail”.