Storm Over Failure To Scrap 50% Remission Policy

Ulster’s main political parties have criticised the Government’s delay in abolishing 50% remission for serious sex offenders and violent criminals. The Belfast Telegraph has revealed that almost 80 sex offenders have been released from jail half-way through their sentences since the Government stated it would replace the policy.

In December, former Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson vowed to scrap the policy after 35,000 people signed up to this paper’s Justice For Attracta Campaign calling for an end to the controversial practice.

The campaign was launched after it emerged that killer Trevor Hamilton murdered Strabane pensioner Attracta Harron just weeks after he was released from jail half-way through a seven-year sentence for rape. However, eight months on and the Government has still not given any firm indication of when a replacement policy will be introduced.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds, who backed the campaign, has voiced concerns that there has been no indication of when the new scheme will be introduced. “The Government needs to get its act together,” he said. “When we are talking about people’s lives and the safety of the community, all necessary procedures must be put in place.”

And SDLP MLA John Dallat said the new measures – that will keep dangerous criminals behind bars indefinitely – need to be implemented now. “There is absolutely no reason why the Government should have stalled on this issue,” he said. “There is enough experience that the release of sex offenders creates problems in many communities.

“It probably would be a good idea that the local Assembly had control over justice as quickly as possible so the issue of sex offenders can be addressed in a way that leaves communities safe and not exposed time and time again to unreformed people who will simply just offend again.”

Chris Smallwood, regional manager for Nexus Institute in Belfast, said it is vital there is adequate legislation in place to support victims. “How can a victim of sexual abuse or rape feel supported when they know that if they go to court, straight away their perpetrator is practically guaranteed 50% off their sentence?” he said.

“I think it is a blight on the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice System. This sits with the Northern Ireland Office, but the Stormont Executive need to stop talking about this and take action.”