A murder and suicide – of a Milton Keynes woman and her partner – have been linked by a trade union to changes in the way offenders are supervised in England and Wales and a shortage of probation officers.
In an 18-page letter to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) said an offender with a history of domestic violence murdered his partner and killed himself when he was being supervised by an “overworked” trainee.
Serena Hickey, 42, from Milton Keynes, was strangled at a hotel in Kempston, Bedford, on September 13. Her partner Darren Ellis’s body was later found on a railway line in Warwickshire.
Another probation officer working for a newly formed community rehabilitation company (CRC), who had an “excessive caseload”, was unable to spend sufficient time with an offender who went on to commit murder, the letter said.
Napo said staff working under the new CRC model do not have full access to criminal records, which in one case could have contributed to a probation officer being sexually assaulted as she was unable to see a “risk flag” to signal that the offender should not be seen alone by women.
But appearing in front of the Justice Select Committee, Mr Grayling said there had been fewer serious further offences committed by offenders since the reforms were introduced in June.
A package of £450 million of probation contracts was offered to private and voluntary sector organisations, covering the supervision of 200,000 low and medium-risk offenders each year on a payment-by-results basis.
Contracts have been split across CRCs in 20 English regions and one Welsh region, while the National Probation Service (NPS), a new public sector organisation, has been formed to deal with high-risk offenders.
Mr Grayling told MPs: “The trade union has, on occasion, put forward information and have not given full context or accuracy of the situation.”
He added: “There will always be serious further offences, however we put together the system.
“It is regretted; one serious further offence is one too many and something we will always try to prevent. I hope as time goes by we will see few serious further offences.”
The Justice Secretary is to decide whether he should transfer shares to the CRCs.
Twenty of the 21 contract areas will be led by new partnerships and joint ventures between private sector firms and rehabilitation charities. Kent, Surrey and Sussex is the only region to go to a single bidder.
Half of the partnerships chosen as preferred bidders also include ”mutual” organisations set up by probation staff to take over their own organisations.
The complete list of preferred bidders includes 16 charities and voluntary organisations, four probation staff mutuals and seven private companies.
There were 151 serious further offences between June 1 and September 30 this year, compared with 181 in the same period last year.
Mr Grayling also told the same committee hearing that the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, would not automatically have his term extended next July and would have to re-apply for the post.
But Mr Hardwick revealed he would not re-apply for the role, adding he would not be able to be “independent” from the Government while applying to them for a job.