HC Deb 16 December 2002 vol 396 cc34-6WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn)

In September, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to look at the case of Malcolm Rourke. This was a disturbing and shocking crime and I extend every sympathy to the victim.

Instances where an offender on licence supervision commits an offence of similar gravity to the original one are thankfully few in number. However, because of the devastating effect these crimes can have on the lives of their victims there can never be any room for complacency among those whose task it is to supervise such offenders. That is why the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw to undertake this inquiry. This work has now been completed.

I am grateful to Stephen and his team for conducting such a thorough investigation and for producing a detailed analysis of how the arrangements for managing and recalling dangerous offenders can be further enhanced. Although the report concluded that there was no evidence of negligence or incompetence, it did make a number of constructive recommendations as to how these arrangements might be strengthened in the future. These have been accepted in full and will now be implemented.

It is a sad reality that there are no guarantees with this type of work. It is not always possible to foresee and prevent crimes committed by people on licence any more than it is possible to do so for those without previous convictions. We can however learn lessons and make sure that every effort is made to protect the public. In particular the most important change is that, in future, recall decisions will be taken by the local probation service which is supervising the offender.

In addition the Criminal Justice Bill currently before parliament includes provisions to enable the courts to pass an indeterminate sentence on those who continue to present a danger to society, and ensure that they remain in custody until it is considered safe to release them.

We will not be publishing the full report as it would place individuals, who have been exonerated from any suggestion of wrongdoing, in an unfair position. A summary of the case, terms of reference and key findings are as follows:

Following the conviction of Malcolm Rourke in August 2002 for the offences of rape and robbery, committed whilst he was subject to licence supervision, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to conduct an inquiry into the handling of the case. The terms of reference were: To examine the way in which the Prison Service and the National Probation Service managed the case of Malcolm Rourke following his release from custody on 14 June 2002; to consider whether, in light of this case, any changes need to be made to the arrangements for managing the post release supervision and recall of dangerous offenders; and to make recommendations. The key findings of the inquiry are:

Action Plan

All of the recommendations have been accepted and work is underway to implement them: The right to recall dangerous offenders will rest with the Assistant Chief Probation Officer in the area concerned, subject to Parole Board review, not with the SEU. The National Probation Service is planning introduce the electronic version of the Offender Assessment System (OASys) by 31 December, 2003. This will provide a single case assessment which staff in each area will have access to. The introduction of OASys and the development of its application to include supervising officers case notes will further enhance communication between hostels and probation staff. The National Probation Directorate will establish a recall forum with representatives from the Home Office's Sentence Enforcement Unit, the National Probation Directorate, the Parole Board and other agencies who might have an interest in this process. This forum will: review the collation of recall management information across the agencies; identify gaps; and ensure more effective information sharing systems are put in place.

New guidance on recalls, in the form of a Probation Circular, will be issued to NPS staff.

Representatives from NPD, SEU and Parole Board have already met with legal advisers to address the status of MAPPP documentation and this will be clarified as part of further guidance to be issued on MAPPA early next year.

Internal restructuring within SEU will include responsibility for overseeing and regularly updating guidance on these issues.

Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Area will consider what further training requirements are needed in the light of this case.

The review of the serious incident reporting system has led to the piloting of new arrangements in two Probation Areas. In evaluating these pilots consideration will be given to strengthening the service's investigatory arrangements.