Some former prisoners who were sentenced to more than four years will no longer have to tell employers after a certain amount of time has passed – some experts point out though there are serious issues with it.
It is hoped the reforms will “break barriers” to employment faced by ex-offenders who want to turn their lives around.
The new legislation, which changes what must be disclosed to employers, will not apply where offences attract the most serious sentences, including life, or for serious sexual, violent and terrorism offences, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
In addition to the rule change for sentences of more than four years, the period of time for which shorter sentences and community sentences have to be revealed to employers will be scaled back.
The MoJ said the exact length of these “rehabilitation periods” will be determined following discussions with stakeholders.
Currently, where a sentence of more than four years is passed, crimes committed decades earlier, including those committed as a child, must be disclosed to employers for the remainder of the offender’s life.
The reforms will only apply to non-sensitive roles, with separate and stricter rules for those working with children or vulnerable adults, as well as national security roles or positions of public trust.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “The responsibility, structure and support provided by regular work is an essential component of effective rehabilitation, something which benefits us all by reducing reoffending and cutting the cost of crime.
“That’s why we are introducing reforms to break barriers faced by ex-offenders who genuinely want to turn their lives around through employment.
“While these reforms will help remove the stigma of convictions, we will never compromise public safety.
“That is why separate and more stringent rules will continue to apply for sensitive roles, including those which involve working with children and vulnerable adults.”
Penelope Gibbs, chairwoman of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: “Currently anyone convicted of shop-lifting twice aged 12 must disclose that when applying to be a traffic warden aged 55.
“Such laws prevent people moving on in their lives. We welcome the Government’s proposal to reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
“This will help people get employment, but will not wipe the slate clean. Shortening rehabilitation periods should be a first step in reform of whole criminal records disclosure system.
“This has the potential to be of enormous benefit, but there are real issues with it” said Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.
“While it should mean that finally, almost 25 years after I left prison, I will be able to turn the page and leave my past behind, what about online reports?
“The issue is how we prevent ‘spent’ convictions from popping up in online news reports in perpetuity?
“Unless we can resolve that, then largely the benefits of this will become trumped by technology.”
By Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales.
“Inmates to be handed cell keys” – the headline to Richard Ford’s article in The Times today on the new Incentives policy framework for prisons issued by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, stretches disingenuousness to the very edge of dishonesty.
Let’s cut straight to the chase: prisoners are not ‘handed cell keys’.
Prisoners will be issued with keys to a ‘privacy lock’; a lock that is physically separate to the central cell door lock and one which, in any event, prison staff have master keys that can override the prisoners’ privacy lock at all times.
Another basic but vital point missed completely by Richard Ford’s lamentable article is this: prisoners can use the privacy keys to get into their cells – but there is no keyhole on the inside of the cell door by which they can use their privacy keys to get out.
An important and simple enough point to grasp – but one that was either unrecognised or ignored by Richard Ford.
Another important point is that last year over a million pounds of public money was paid out in compensation for lost and stolen prisoners’ property, where cells doors negligently left open by prison officers while prisoners were not present, allowed other prisoners access to steal the belongings of fellow inmates – yes, shocking isn’t it: there are thieves in our prisons.
Richard Ford’s article is an example of the worst kind of warped reporting that one doesn’t expect from The Times but which has become all too common; lazy journalists who can’t be bothered to ascertain the real facts much less report them.
The new Incentives Policy Framework, which has been a year in the making, is very much to be welcomed – it strikes exactly the right balance between incentive and disincentive.
It has received widespread praise from all quarters with the notable – and predictable – exception of the Prison Officers Association (POA). The POA’s National Chairman, Mark Fairhurst, describing the revised policy as “a recipe for disaster”.
The POA is a Trade Union that trumpets its support for its Members but in truth the vast majority of prison officers couldn’t care less about it – in reality it actually ‘represents’ very few at all.
Mark Fairhurst was elected in 2017 – of the 25,529 Members who were sent ballot papers for the Election of National Chairman, just 1,113 voted for him – 4.39%
The POA are a Union who have little support from its Membership – until they need legal help. Of the 25,529 Ballot Papers sent out just 2,225 were even returned – and of those 189 were either spoilt or left blank – presumably a way of asserting ‘none of the above’.
It is time the POA were challenged, and confronted with the damage they are responsible for, their failure to possess any negotiating skills and the fact that an increasing number of prison officers writing on social media say they are a waste of time.
Our Prison Service has been in meltdown since the loss of 7,000 experienced frontline officers in 2014 – it is a simple but painful fact that the POA agreed to the loss of those 7,000 Officers – who they now constantly blame the Government for when they were themselves responsible for raising not a single objection to any of those officers leaving.
Prison Officers must now retire at the age of 68 – a ridiculous age for any prison officer to still be walking the landings – and yet the POA, with their constant abuse of Government, their ballots to carry out illegal strike action, their being taken to court and made the subject of injunctions, their demand that their staff stand outside the main prison gate in the pouring rain in a fruitless attempt to change policy that hasn’t worked as a negotiating tactic since mid 1980s – and for which the end result is that those prison officers lose pay – shows what an out of touch, unrepresentative, failed Union they really are.
The POA are rightly quick to make press statements condemning when officers are injured – but despite prison officers being convicted and jailed for corruption, inappropriate relationships with prisoners, violence and abuse against prisoners, fraudulent doctoring of documents, importation of drugs, phones and even knives into prisons, the POA says nothing; refusing to publicly condemn a single one of these corrupt members; complicit by its silence lest they lose even more of the few members they have left.
Today industrial disputes are resolved around a table, not stood outside a prison gate engaged in an illegal battle they can never win. Modern Trade Unions work in partnership with their employers, putting their case forward for change, based on evidence and a desire to work together – not banging the table, demanding change, on the basis of threats and walk-outs; the failure of that as a negotiating tactic is proven by the fact that the POA achieve so little.
Thankfully we are now seeing change in the prison system, a new breed of prison officer is coming through, better educated, better trained, more intelligent and the POA needs to reform itself in the same way, or become less of a effective Trade Union than even they currently are.
HMP Manchester, an important local prison in a major English city, was assessed by inspectors as having made slow and weak progress in many key areas where improvement was urged after a full inspection in 2018.
An Independent Review of Progress (IRP) at Manchester took place in June 2019, 11 months after the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said the prison needed to “up its game.”
Mr Clarke said: “The response to the 2018 inspection can only be described as too late and too weak. It is true that there were some encouraging outcomes, and most functional heads demonstrated enthusiasm and a commitment to improving their areas. However, we found there had been little or no meaningful progress against two-thirds of our recommendations.”
The prison had recently revised its safety strategy. “Assaults on prisoners had reduced significantly since the full inspection, and we judged there to have been reasonable progress in this area.” Mr Clarke added, though: “If the establishment is to reduce violence further, particularly against staff, the lengthy list of actions aimed at reducing violence should be prioritised.”
The use of force by staff remained high. “Despite this, there had been no meaningful progress against this recommendation; governance had not improved, staff rarely used their body-worn cameras, with no adequate explanation for this, and too few recorded incidents were scrutinised to provide assurance and institutional learning.”
The prison had made reasonable progress – the second-highest assessment, below good – in efforts to reduce the supply of drugs. Mandatory testing results showed that drug use was relatively low compared with other local prisons.
However, promising work to support prisoners in crisis had started so recently that progress at the time of the IRP visit had to be judged as insufficient. “This was very concerning given that there had been three further self-inflicted deaths since the full inspection in July 2018. It was bewildering to find that actions to prevent deaths in custody simply had not been reviewed until shortly before our visit. Similarly, the introduction of key work and wing peer support had been so slow that we could not yet see sufficient progress in this area.”
The prison had made concerted efforts to tackle the ongoing vermin problem, and some improvements had been made to living conditions.
There was also evidence of reasonable progress in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, though Ofsted inspectors found that attendance at work and education was not prioritised and too much activity was curtailed. Too few prisoners completed their courses and achievements were not sufficiently good.
Mr Clarke said there had been no meaningful progress in the important areas of equality and diversity or time out of cell. A spot check on one wing found 49% of prisoners locked up during the day.
Mr Clarke said: “HMP Manchester was relatively well resourced and had fewer inexperienced staff than we have found at similar prisons. It was therefore hard to understand why progress had been so slow in many critical areas. Such progress as there had been had only started in the weeks and months immediately leading up to this review visit.
“Without a fundamental shift in attitude towards the findings of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, we had no confidence that there could be significant improvements in the future. At the full inspection we had been told that reconfiguration to a category B training prison was imminent. On this visit… we were told that the target date had been moved to October 2019. It is my considered view that unless the culture of the prison changes, and the need for improvement is taken seriously, it will not be ready for this change.”
HMP Berwyn, a large, two-year-old prison near Wrexham, was found in its first inspection to be generally ordered, with good living conditions, but with some key weaknesses.
Notable features from this inspection
Only a quarter of the population were Welsh.
The prison’s capacity was 2,106 prisoners but it held 1,273.
Just over three-quarters of the population were serving four years or more.
Almost half of prisoners said drugs were easily available.
Three-quarters of officers had been in service for less than two years and about a third for less than a year.
All cells had a shower, telephone and laptop computer.
Levels of self-harm were low for the type of prison.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that opening a new prison was a big challenge. “The prison opened with a very clear rehabilitative vision which has faced resistance at times. The leadership team are still working hard to find and maintain the right balance between rehabilitation and security, freedom and control, and sanctions and reward.
“Some mistakes have been made and we identify some important weaknesses, but we also acknowledge the great effort that has been made to give this prison a good start. The prison is generally ordered and settled, and… we found Berwyn to be a reasonably respectful place.” There was more to do, though, in the areas of safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning.
Though Berwyn is a Welsh prison, about 75% of those held in March 2019 were from England. Around 23% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, a figure comparable with other training prisons. Assaults on prisoners were lower than in similar prisons, but the rate of assaults on staff was higher. There were signs, though, that both were gradually reducing.
Some work was being done to reduce violence but “delivery often lacked drive and needed to be implemented more effectively.” Inspectors found 25 self-isolating prisoners who were completely unsupported. Use of force by staff was higher than in similar prisons and incidents usually involved the full application of restraints. However, oversight was satisfactory.
Drugs had been too readily available, but actions by the prison to reduce drugs supply seemed to have had some impact, and the positive drug testing rate had reduced to 21.49%. This was, however, still too high and supply reduction initiatives required greater coordination and drive. Nearly half of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs and almost one in four said they had developed a drug problem while at the prison.
There had been no self-inflicted deaths since the prison opened and self-harm was comparatively low, but those at risk who inspectors spoke to did not feel well cared for.
Most staff at Berwyn were inexperienced and, though they were doing their best and contributing to a relaxed and positive atmosphere, many prisoners felt frustrated by staff inconsistency and uncertainty. Some poor behaviour went unchallenged.
The quality of accommodation and the general environment were very good, with in-cell showers, telephones and access to amenities.
Mr Clarke said: “The prison had been successful in its aim to make such a large prison feel small. There was a real sense of community in most of the wings.”
Employed prisoners had reasonable time out of cell, though it was much worse for those without employment, who had about two and a half hours a day. Inspectors found 28% of prisoners locked up during the working day, “which for a new training prison was very disappointing.”
One of the greatest challenges facing the prison was the lack of activity places. Mr Clarke said: “It is difficult to understand how and why the procurement of work and training places for a new prison could be so delayed. Facing a rising population and too few activity places, prison managers had created a range of activities and there were sufficient places for the current population, but some were of inadequate quality and lacked challenge. Even those that were available were not fully used. Many prisoners were unemployed or failed to attend, and staff did too little to support a sound work ethic.” Those attending education or vocational training, however, generally received excellent teaching, made useful progress and achieved well.
The prison was struggling to develop its approach to offender management and resettlement. The make-up of the population was not as had been originally envisaged. Many prisoners were serving long sentences and presented a high risk of harm. Too many prisoners did not have an up-to-date assessment of risk.
Offender management caseloads were too high and case management was inconsistent and reactive. Public protection measures were similarly weak and the prison lacked sufficient offending behaviour interventions to meet the needs of the population. Work to resettle prisoners was, however, better.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“We met many managers and staff who were working hard to make a success of this new prison. Senior managers described themselves as ‘being on a journey’ and we saw lots of work, many policies and numerous plans. What was needed was better oversight, better coordination and more sustained delivery. The staff seemed to us to be a strength of the prison, but they needed support in delivering the basics consistently. We thought the prison had made a good start. We were impressed by the energy and optimism we observed and there was clearly the potential to move on rapidly.”
Mr Leech said: “Many people really underestimate what opening a new prison involves, a new establishment, with new processes, new staff, new prisoners – it can so easily go horribly wrong as we have seen in the past.
“This is a very positive report on Berwyn , it has some significant problems ahead, drugs are a major concern like in the majority of prisons, but it has a sound basis from which to move forward and I welcome this report.”
Task of the establishment: A category C training and resettlement establishment holding adult males.
Certified normal accommodation and operational capacity: Prisoners held at the time of inspection: 1,273. Baseline certified normal capacity: 2,106. In-use certified normal capacity: 1,584. Operational capacity: 1,300 (currently capped at this number while awaiting more staffing and provision).
Prison status (public or private) and key providers: Public
Physical health provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Mental health provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Substance misuse provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Learning and skills provider: Novus Cambria Community rehabilitation company (CRC): Seetec Justice (Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC) Escort contractor: GEOAmey
Prison group: North Wales
Brief history In 2014, permission was granted for a prison to be built in Wrexham, and Berwyn opened on 27 February 2017. Built on a former Firestone Tyre site, Berwyn (when full) is the largest prison in England and Wales and the second largest in Europe.
Short description of residential units.
There are three houses. Alwen, Bala and Ceiriog, each divided into eight communities that can accommodate up to 88 general population residents, including the following. Alwen C Uppers life-sentenced/indeterminate sentence for public protection Alwen D Uppers enhanced life-sentenced Bala B Lowers healthy living Bala C Lowers Glyndŵr: progressive unit Bala D Lowers Gobaith: resettlement unit Bala B Uppers Menai: assisted living Bala C Uppers Shaun Stocker: veterans and first-timers Bala D Uppers improving family futures Ceiriog A Lowers Snowdon: mature residents Ceiriog D Lowers induction and first night unit. Ogwen care and support (segregation) unit (up to 21 prisoners)
Name of governor and date in post: Nick Leader (April 2019)
Independent Monitoring Board chair: Eileen Darbyshire
Date of last inspection: This was the prison’s first inspection.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) generated new and unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in the scrutiny of prisons in England and Wales in 2018–19, according to HM Chief Inspector Peter Clarke.
Publishing his annual report, Mr Clarke made clear that robust independent scrutiny was vital after another deeply troubling year for some parts of the prison estate. Too many prisons continued to be plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity.
What goes on in prisons remained largely unseen by the public and the media. However, in 2018–19 Mr Clarke used the Urgent Notification protocol – requiring the Secretary of State publicly to respond with action to improve a jail with significant problems – three times. Those prisons were HMPs Exeter, Bedford and Birmingham, where inspectors found some of the worst conditions they had ever seen.
The Inspectorate also secured funding and developed the methodology for its new Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs), designed to give ministers an independent assessment of how well failing jails were addressing key Inspectorate recommendations. The Justice Select Committee, in its report on HMIP’s inspection of HMP Liverpool in 2017, had expressed concern that the prison service was effectively ‘marking its own homework’ and concluded there should be an injection of independence in the follow up to inspection reports.
Transparency and accountability
In his annual report, Mr Clarke asks: “How do we independently assess accountability in the inevitably closed world of prisons? The need for greater transparency in the delivery of this key public service has led to some important developments over the past two years that I hope will prove to be a turning point in improving the impact of independent prison inspection in England and Wales.
“There will be around 15–20 IRPs in 2019–20 and each subsequent year and these will be focused on prisons subject to an Urgent Notification or where there are other causes for serious concern.”
Mr Clarke added: “They will concentrate on progress in implementing key recommendations, and will look to see if action plans are properly focused, resourced, and with clear timelines and lines of accountability for improvement.
“As with Urgent Notifications, IRPs will be published, affording a higher level of both political and public accountability than has hitherto been the case. Our first IRPs (in 2019–20) at HMPs Exeter, Chelmsford, The Mount and Birmingham have suggested that a great deal of energy has gone into responding to Urgent Notifications and some other very concerning inspection reports, but that in some instances the response has been disappointingly slow.
“Nevertheless, the early indications are that they are prompting a more focused response than we have become accustomed to seeing in the past.”
Mr Clarke made clear he believes such independent scrutiny is vital, given his reservations about the effectiveness of the current HMPPS ‘special measures’ system.
“On some occasions the response has been to place a struggling prison in ‘special measures’, but I do not have confidence in that as a reliable means of driving improvement. The inspection of HMP Lewes in January 2019 found a prison that had been in special measures for two years, and yet had declined in no less than three of our four healthy prison tests and failed to improve in the vital test of safety.
“Similarly, the special measures at HMP Bedford left me with little confidence that the prison could improve, and the use of the Urgent Notification process was inevitable.
He added: “HMI Prisons will remain resolutely independent in all that it does, but that should not and will not stop us being supportive and, where appropriate, collaborative in helping prisons to improve. We are therefore pleased that early indications are that establishments are warmly welcoming the advent of IRPs. Managers have appreciated the focus that the IRP visits have given.”
The most troubled part of the prison estate
As in previous years, men’s local and training prisons – with their high throughput of prisoners, often worn-out fabric, vulnerable populations and levels of violence and illicit drugs use – caused most concern.
The report also discloses significant prisoner vulnerability. Across the service, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year.
Mr Clarke said the prison service response to the “deluge of drugs flowing into many prisons in recent years,” generating debt, bullying and violence, had often been slow and neither robust nor sophisticated. “The introduction of new technology that is necessary to help counter the threat has been patchy.”
The extraordinary dedication of staff
Inspectors were struck, as in previous years, “by the extraordinary dedication of those who work in our prisons. Their work is difficult, often dangerous, largely unseen by the public and, as a result, little understood.
“Many worked through a period in which reduced resources, both in terms of staff and investment, made it extremely difficult to run some of our jails.” New staff deserved support in an environment where, in too many establishments, drug-fuelled violence remained a daily reality.
Variations in performance and the quality of leadership
The report highlights evidence that performance varies between comparable prisons and makes clear the Chief Inspector’s view that the quality of leadership is a vital factor. “Some issues that have an adverse impact on prisoners are often outside the control of prison leaders.
“However, there is much that is firmly within the control of those whose responsibility it is to lead and manage these complex establishments. It is as clear as day… that the variations in performance of apparently comparable jails is directly influenced by the quality of their leadership. “
The report contains information from inspections of adult prisons and children’s detention, as well as immigration and other forms of detention.
Men’s prisons: Too many prisoners were still being held in prisons that were unsafe. Levels of violence had increased in more than half the prisons we inspected.
Respectful detention and living conditions: Inspectors noted the positive impact of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks for prisoners to make applications, health care appointments, arrange visits and make complaints. However, far too many prisoners still endured very poor and overcrowded living conditions. Though around two-thirds of prisoners overall were positive about the way they were treated by staff, inspectors frequently found that prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had less positive views of their treatment and conditions. There was no clear strategy for older prisoners.
Purposeful activity: In only a third of the adult male prisons inspected was purposeful activity, which includes the provision of education, work and training, judged to be good or reasonably good.
Rehabilitation and release planning: Overall, there was some progress but much remained to be done, particularly around prisoners who presented a potentially high risk of harm to the public being released without a full risk assessment. Inspectors saw large cohorts of sex offenders in prisons where specialist interventions were not available.
Women’s prisons: Overall, inspectors continued to find that outcomes for women held in prison were better than for men.
Children’s custody: HMIP inspected four young offender institutions and three secure training centres. Safety assessment had improved in three inspections. Nevertheless, levels of violence remained high and bullying was a constant concern.
Immigration detention: Inspection outcomes were good or reasonably good. However, detainees continued to feel unsafe and uncertain because there was too often a lack of clarity as to what the future held for them.
Police custody: HMIP, with HMICFRS, jointly wrote to Chief Constables expressing concern about the governance and oversight of the use of force.
Like any parent I can’t even begin to understand the heartache of Marie McCourt, the mother of Helen McCourt, who has no idea where her daughter’s body is located because the person convicted of her murder, Ian Simms, refuses to say – insisting he is innocent of the crime.
Now, under new laws announced this month by the Justice Secretary convicted killers who refuse to reveal the location of their victim’s body may spend longer in prison. The planned law change, to be known as ‘Helen’s Law’ in her memory, will in future compel the Parole Board to take account of a failure to reveal the location of a victim’s remains when considering a killer’s release.
To any sane person it seems reasonable, I mean if anyone knows where the body is, then it has to be the convicted killer, doesn’t it?
Or does it – what happens if juries get it wrong?
What happens if they convict an innocent person?
What happens when juries believe a liar?
It has happened before – and I was involved.
On 30th November 1980, at the Old Bailey, Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney and Terry Pinfold were convicted of six contract killings and sentenced to life – MacKenney getting a Whole Life tariff. Both men insisted they were innocent and knew nothing about any of the alleged murders.
It was a curious case.
There was no dispute that each of their six ‘victims’ had existed, nor that each and every one of them had suddenly vanished into thin air. But the involvement of both MacKenney and Pinfold in their disappearances depended on the word of just one man: John Childs.
Childs, originally arrested and questioned by Flying Squad detectives for an armed robbery, a crime he admitted, went on to tell them a bizarre story of six contract murders which, Childs claimed, had each been procured by Pinfold and then carried out by himself and MacKenney.
So where were the bodies?
Childs told detectives each of the six bodies had been dismembered in his east London flat, after which he attempted to mince the victims remains with an industrial three-phase electrical mincing machine.
When that failed, claiming the three-phase machine “would not turn at all” when connected to the flat’s two-phase electricity supply, the dismembered bodies he said had been cremated and reduced to ash in the flat’s fire grate – with the ashes then being dispersed into the wind at numerous rural locations.
Flying Squad detectives, led by Detective Superintendent Frank Cater, were dumbstruck by the story.
MacKenney was a man they knew well, having arrested him many times for a string of armed robberies but, despite standing over 6’4″ tall and being placed on over 60 of the Flying Squad’s Identity Parades, MacKenney had not been picked out even once.
MacKenney’s one previous conviction was for punching a bus driver in the early 1960’s – hardly the monstrous murderer portrayed by Childs, but Cater, and his boss, Chief Superintendent Tony Lundy, threw everything they had into the investigation.
It came to nothing.
No bodies of any of the alleged victims were ever found.
Despite months of examinations not a single piece of forensic evidence was ever discovered linking either Pinfold or MacKenney to any of the alleged crime scenes – nor any evidence at all linking even Childs himself to the crimes apart from his claims.
No blood was ever found in the flat occupied by Childs, where the bodies were said by him to have been dismembered, and despite detailed searches no trace of the industrial mincing Childs claimed to have used unsuccessfully to mince the bodies, well no trace of that was ever found either.
Despite a trawl through three years worth of Exchange and Mart newspapers, from which Childs claimed Pinfold had purchased the mincer, no such machine was ever discovered that could to be linked to MacKenney, Pinfold, or Childs himself.
A detailed a month-long forensic search of the domestic fire grate in Childs’ flat, where he claimed each of the six dismembered bodies had been burnt to cinders, produced not a single speck of forensic evidence to support his claims.
Thorough forensic searches of the various locations where Childs claimed to have disposed of the victims’ ashes, also revealed nothing; not a single piece of evidence.
The Crown themselves were forced to confront this when Childs himself appeared for sentencing having pleaded guilty to the six murders. John Matthew QC, prosecuting, told Mr Justice Lawson at the Old Bailey that, frankly, the only reason Childs was before the court at all was due to his admissions: “Without the admissions of this defendant the Crown could not have brought a prosecution in respect of any of these murders.”
So how could Pinfold and MacKenney have been convicted – and how did I ever become involved in this case?
In 1994 I was nearing the end of a 14 year sentence for robbery in Scotland when I received a letter from ‘Big H’, who I knew from Parkhurst earlier in my sentence. I was writing feature articles on the prison system for The Guardian newspaper at time and he had read one and decided to get back in touch and ask for my help. “I’m innocent” he said.
After all the time I’d been in jail I was no stranger to claims of innocence, we’ve all heard them, but there was something different about Harry’s case, it was just so incredible that I wanted to know more so I asked Harry MacKenney to send me details of his case; four weeks later five large egg boxes stacked with trial papers arrived and with nine months of my own sentence still to serve, I sat down to read.
It was truly astonishing.
Soon after my release in March 1995 I took the case of Harry MacKenney to Michael Levy, a Manchester solicitor I respected and asked him to take the case on, he agreed and employed me as the Case Consultant. With the advice and guidance of Edward Fitzgerald QC, a barrister I had known and respected for well over 20 years, I got to work.
It was obvious that getting to the bottom of this case meant dismantling the evidence of Bruce Childs. Childs was a psychopath, that much was known from a report available at the trial of Pinfold and MacKenney, prepared by Mr Barry Irving.
Irving held a Master’s Degree in Social Psychology and was a member of the permanent research staff at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, he wrote: “I believe Childs to be severely psychopathic insofar as he shows an abnormal lack of reaction to social pressures, he will not exhibit to the court any of the normal externally observable signs of fabrication upon which the jury depend to detect lying from the witness’s demeanour.”
In short, Irving was saying Childs was so disturbed no-one could tell from watching him in the witness box that he was lying, he wouldn’t show any signs of it – but the trial judge, Mr Justice May, ruled Irving’s report could not go before the jury.
“It is for juries, not psychiatrists or psychologists to determine whether a witness is telling the truth” he ruled. On the law as it stood at the time, he was absolutely right in his ruling.
Since then however the law had changed – although that of itself was not a sufficient ground of appeal.
I turned to Professor Morgan, a professor of Electrical Engineering at UMIST – the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology – and a world leader on three-phase electrical machines. Sitting in his office I came straight to the point: Why would a three-phase industrial mincing machine, when connected to the two-phase domestic electricity supply in Childs’ flat, not work?
Answer: it would work.
In direct contradiction to the evidence of Childs that the mincing machine he had used ‘would not turn at all’, Professor Morgan explained that it would definitely turn, it might lack power, certainly, but it would definitely turn. Why had no one at the trial checked?
Next, I needed a fire expert. Inquiries I had made revealed crematoria need 1600-1800 degrees to reduce a body to ash – could a fire in a domestic council flat grate produce such temperatures – and what about the smell? Neighbours of Childs questioned in 1979 all said his behaviour was bizarre, but none of them said anything about the smell of burning flesh.
I turned to Paul Williamson, an Assistant Chief Fire Officer with 35 years service. He was adamant about two things; firstly a fire in a domestic grate would not exceed 1000 degrees, you need a fuel injection system to get beyond that and 1000 degrees was way below the temperatures needed to reduce a body to ash – and secondly you could not burn six bodies without the smell of burning flesh being obvious.
“We all know how the smell of a bacon butty lingers in a kitchen for an hour” he said, “the smell of burning flesh is unmistakable, you can’t burn six complete bodies and no one notice a thing without powerful extraction fans.” Childs had never claimed to have extraction fans.
More worryingly, evidence we found in police files, but not disclosed to the defence at the trial, revealed that one of the alleged victims, Terry Eve, had actually been tracked down by police, living under an assumed name in south London, three years after Childs and the Crown alleged he had been murdered – and the Detective Chief Inspector who had been told this was still alive and able to corroborate it.
Finally Childs himself admitted, in a sworn affidavit, the whole story was fictitious from start to end, he had taken the details from newspaper reports – MacKenney and Pinfold he said were innocent.
From inquiries we made it also became clear that Childs had a long history of bogus admissions to crimes. At various times, in addition to the claims he made about MacKenney and Pinfold, Childs had told police he was responsible for:
The killing of an inmate when he was at Rochester Borstal in 1958/9. The police had conducted a full investigation of this confession and they concluded that, although he had given a truthful account of his violent behaviour at Borstal, he had embellished it by making up a totally fictitious account of the murder of an inmate.
A murder at the Kray Brothers Club in Holloway in 1964/5. In this case Childs claimed that with criminal associates he acted as Judge and “tried” a person alleged to be an informer, and acting as Jury he convicted the man, and as Executioner he claimed to have then shot him. The police again conducted a full investigation and concluded that it was extremely unlikely that this ever happened.
There were further claims of a robbery and shooting at the Soho Club in 1966/7, stabbings in public houses in Hillingdon and drive by shooting too; the police could trace no record of any of these.
A murder in Poplar High Street in 1978 of a vagrant whom Childs then claimed to have dismembered and burnt. The police could find no evidence to support this at all.
In July 2001 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) having spent 18 months considering MacKenney’s application, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
More than two years later, in October 2003, the Appeal Court finally quashed the convictions of Harry MacKenney and Terry Pinfold and both men, after spending 24 years in prison, walked free.
But pause here now for a moment.
What if none of this had happened?
What if Helen’s Law, or something similar, had been in place at this time?
How could Pinfold or MacKenney, or anyone convicted of a murder they knew nothing about, reveal the location of a deceased whose death or disposal they had nothing to do with?
Juries do get it wrong, the case of MacKenney and Pinfold proves that six times over – and what happens even when juries get it right?
What happens when the Parole Board, forced to employ Helen’s Law comes up against someone genuinely guilty of a murder? Someone who admits their part in it, who is remorseful, has made good progress in custody, whose risk of harm can be safely managed in the community – but who genuinely asserts the body was disposed of not by them, but by a third party, who are themselves now deceased, and they have no idea where the body of the person they killed is located?
Are they to be denied release?
And what of those killers who don’t care about getting out, what of those who after decades in prison have nothing to go out to?
What of those who will see this as a sick game, who wish to inflict even greater pain on the victim’s families – families who may well over the years have constantly abused the prisoner in the media whenever their case was mentioned – and who now demand their help?
What if killers deliberately mislead by identifying as ‘burial sites’ what are today major buildings, motorways, or railway lines; saying these are the final resting place of the deceased?
What if a person claims the body is buried in what is now Canary Wharf, the Port of Dover, Heathrow or Gatwick Airports?
How many times are these places to be shut down, sites excavated, and all in vain – raising a family’s hopes, only to have them trashed and dashed once again?
What happens if it is claimed the body was buried at sea – how does the Parole Board even begin to unpick that one?
It is understandable why any parent wants to locate the body of their child, brutally slain and left to rot in some godforsaken place they know not where.
But this is a difficult and complex area, one that politicians interfere with at their peril. What seems to them like an opportunity to gain political kudos may well, in reality, bring nothing but unforeseen and untold distress to the victim’s family who have surely already suffered more than enough.
We may be dealing here with some killers who have no feelings, serial killers especially rarely do, and the end result of Helen’s Law, however well-intentioned, may be that the victim’s families must endure even greater pain.
Who knows what may happen when juries, families or the Parole Board, believe a liar?
Boris Johnson has indicated violent or sexual offenders could remain locked up for longer if he becomes prime minister – which one prisons expert has described as ‘political posturing and sheer nonsense.’
The Tory leadership hopeful said it was wrong that prisoners were routinely let out after serving just half of the sentence handed down in court.
Mr Johnson also said Theresa May had been wrong to introduce curbs on the police’s stop and search powers, and said it was important to “change that balance back” in favour of officers.
But while he struck a tough tone on law and order, Mr Johnson hinted to the Daily Mail he could grant an amnesty for long-term illegal migrants.
Setting out his views on sentencing, the former London mayor told the newspaper: “I’m afraid there are too many people, because of the way the sentencing law works, who have committed serious violence or sexual offences who are being let out, as the law prescribes, after they’ve served only half the sentence that is pronounced in open court.
“This is happening. And I’m talking about serious sexual or violent offenders.
“And I think the public is noticing this, quite properly. They don’t think it’s right, and I don’t think it’s right.”
Mr Johnson promised a “relentless focus” on knife crime and criticised the 2014 measures on stop and search brought in by Mrs May.
“When it comes to stop and search, the fact is that we went wrong when we decided to change the rules on the best use of stop and search.
“We made it more difficult. And I think it’s important that we change that balance back.”
Mr Johnson has already pledged to spend £1.1 billion a year funding 20,000 extra police officers as part of his pitch to Tory members to elect him as their leader on July 23.
This is political posturing and sheer nonsense of the worst kind, not least because it places prison officers in even greater danger in terms of discipline and control, but because it also assumes Judges know nothing about release arrangements and, what’s more, it totally ignores the reality that the power to issue an extended sentence to sexual and violent offenders already exists.
The fact is there is not a single prison officer or governor who would thank you for imposing a regime where the most dangerous violent and sexual offenders have to serve their whole sentence in custody.
The prospect of early release is one of the most potent weapons they have in their armoury to encourage compliance, removing it would render that weapon impotent and place the most dangerous offenders in a position where they have nothing to gain or lose from custodial behaviour.
Secondly, our judges know exactly that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 means the vast majority of offenders are released at the half-way point of their sentence, and are then subject to strict licence conditions and recall until the end of the sentence.
Judges I have spoken to tell me that, within sentencing guidelines, which confer a wide discretion on sentence length, they determine the amount of time they want a person to serve in custody and, where the law allows, they double it.
Removing that automatic release wouldn’t mean someone sentenced today to ten years would then serve ten years – the reality is that the sentence imposed would simply be halved so the custodial portion of the sentence remains exactly the same.
Finally the reality is that the courts already have the power to impose an extended sentence on dangerous violent or sexual offenders, which may be given to an offender aged 18 or over when:
the offender is guilty of a specified violent or sexual offence;
the court assesses the offender as a significant risk to the public of committing further specified offences;
a sentence of imprisonment for life is not available or justified; and
the offender has a previous conviction for an offence listed in schedule 15B to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or the current offence justifies an appropriate custodial term of at least four years.
These sentences were introduced to provide extra protection to the public in certain types of cases where the court has found that the offender is dangerous and an extended licence period is required to protect the public from risk of harm.
The judge decides how long the offender should stay in prison and also fixes the extended licence period up to a maximum of eight years. The offender will either be entitled to automatic release at the two thirds point of the custodial sentence, not the half-way point as Johnson asserts, or be entitled to apply for parole at that point.
If parole is refused the offender will be released at the expiry of the prison term. Following release, the offender will be subject to the licence where he will remain under the supervision of HM Prison and Probation Service until the expiry of the extended period.
The combined total of the prison term and extension period cannot be more than the maximum sentence for the offence committed.
In 2017, a total of 575 offenders were given an extended sentence.
If, as appears likely, Johnson is the next Conservative politician to be crowned Prime Minister, I can only hope that senior Civil Servants will educate him on the reality of the situation which, at the current time he appears to be completely ignorant about.
Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales and tweets under the tag @prisonsorguk
Families of the victims of serial killer Stephen Port have been told a fresh inquest into their deaths will focus on possible failings in the police investigation.
But the Old Bailey was told it would not be lawful to investigate the conduct of another coroner who previously failed to identify foul play in the deaths of two of the young men before Port was caught.
Port, now aged 44, drugged and raped four young men and dumped their bodies near his home in Barking, east London, between 2014 and 2015.
Following a trial at the Old Bailey, he was handed a whole-life sentence for the murders of fashion student Anthony Walgate, 23, Gabriel Kovari, 22, Kent chef Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor, 25, a forklift truck driver from Dagenham.
Since then, the victims’ families have question why he was not stopped sooner and the Independent Office for Police Conduct has investigated.
An earlier inquest into the deaths of Mr Whitworth and Mr Kovari which had reached an open conclusion was quashed.
During the trial it had transpired a suicide note purporting to be penned by Mr Whitworth admitting involvement in Mr Kovari’s death had been faked by Port to cover his tracks.
On Friday, Judge Sarah Munro QC, sitting as assistant coroner for east London, vowed to hold a “full, fair and fearless” inquest.
She offered her “sincere condolences” to the family of Mr Taylor and Mr Whitworth’s partner in court as well as bereaved relatives not present.
Andrew O’Connor QC, counsel for the coroner, told the court: “The main focus of these inquests should be the adequacy of the police investigation into Mr Port.”
He said it would not be necessary to call extensive evidence on the circumstances of the deaths because Port’s conviction was evidence in itself.
On the scope of the inquest, he said: “The starting point will be evidence of police involvement and knowledge of Stephen Port prior to the death of Anthony Walgate.
“It will then be necessary for you to examine the way the police responded to each of the four deaths, the response to earlier deaths being relevant.
“It will inform your investigation into whether steps should have been taken before the later deaths – even before the last death of Jack Taylor.”
Mr O’Connor argued that Ms Munro had no power to investigate any “insufficiency” by the original coroner in the inquest into the deaths of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth.
That included whether she properly scrutinised the fake suicide note and Mr Whitworth’s movements in the days before his death.
He said: “What this boils down to is evidence relating to these matters was not called at the inquest into Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth’s deaths. When witnesses and a police officer were called they were not pressed.”
But he said: “The inquests happened. We will be hearing evidence of those inquests. The transcripts will be before you.
“Witnesses, police officers who took part in those inquests can and no doubt will be asked about what they said at those inquests, what they did before those inquests and what they did or did not do after those inquests.”
He stressed Ms Munro would not be able to look at whether the original coroner in some way “failed”.
Mr O’Connor said Port himself had the legal right to take part in the inquests but it was not yet known if he wanted to.
If he did, it was suggested he could hear evidence by video link from prison and it would not be necessary for him to give evidence.
Any involvement by Port in his victims’ inquests would cause “upset” to the families, the court heard.
During the hearing, Ms Munro said: “My priority this morning is to express my sincere condolences to the families both present and absent for the loss of their loved ones.
“You have my assurance that I will conduct full, fair and fearless inquests.”
“I recognise you will all feel frustration at the time it has taken to reach this point. I assure you work has been progressing as expeditiously as possible. There is a considerable amount of work to be done.
“I note that concerns have previously been raised about independence of the process. Those concerns can be allayed by my appointment.”
Afterwards, lawyer Andrew Petherbridge, acting for the families, said: “It’s clear from today’s hearing that there remains a long process ahead for the families.
“However, they remain committed to unearthing the truth and are grateful to the coroner for the careful consideration she is giving all matters.”
A further pre-inquest review will take place at the Old Bailey in November with a full inquest at the same venue as soon as possible in 2020.
A decision on whether to hold the inquest with a jury was put off until the next hearing.
“Serious failings” must be addressed after a man died from heat stroke after being held in a police van and a stuffy court cell on one of the hottest days in 40 years, a watchdog said.
Rafal Sochacki, a 43-year-old Polish national arrested on an extradition warrant, died in Westminster Magistrates’ Court on June 21 2017.
On Tuesday 2nd July a jury in an inquest into his death concluded it was most likely caused by him being subjected to excessive heat, according to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO).
After the ruling PPO Sue McAllister published an independent report into the death, identifying “serious failings” which should be addressed.
The van taking Mr Sochacki from Wood Green police station to the court stopped at Charing Cross police station on the way, the PPO report said.
He spent 50 minutes in his cell in the vehicle with the engine and air-conditioning turned off, according to the report.
Temperatures in central London reached over 30C (86F) on June 21 2017 and was regarded as the hottest June day in London for 40 years.
The air-conditioning at Westminster Magistrates Court in Marylebone had not worked for weeks.
Portable air-conditioning units provided staff with some relief from the heat but did not effectively help detainees in cells, the PPO said.
Mr Sochacki arrived at the court “drenched with sweat” and within three hours he was “behaving bizarrely”, picking and pulling at his clothing or shouting and hitting his cell door.
Some two hours later, he was found unresponsive and later died at the court, despite attempts to resuscitate him.
His body heat reached at least 39.6C (103F).
Mr Sochacki died of cardiovascular collapse caused by hyperthermia (severe heat stroke) and hypertensive heart disease, the PPO said.
Ms McAllister will now meet government bodies responsible for court transfers and detention as well as private contractor Serco to discuss changes that need to be made.
She said: “I am very concerned that there were inadequate contingency plans when the court’s air-conditioning failed.
“Our investigation also found deficiencies in the way staff managed Mr Sochacki during his transfer to and time in a cell at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
“We found some apparent non-compliance by Serco staff in delivering their contracted service and we have drawn this to the attention of both Serco and those responsible for the management of their contracts at HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS.)”
Julia Rogers, Serco managing director for justice and immigration, said: “Any death in custody is a tragedy and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Sochacki.
“We are pleased the coroner found that our officers had carried out their duties properly and did everything they could to help Mr Sochacki.
“We have been working closely with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and already agreed new procedures to manage extreme temperatures in our vehicles and in the court custody suites.
“The MoJ will also be providing us with a new specialist heat sensory device, that was not previously required, to trial in the custody suites.”
A MoJ spokesman said: “Our thoughts remain with Mr Sochacki’s loved ones and we apologise for our failings in this case.
“Lessons have been learnt from this tragic incident.
“We have established clear procedures when court cells reach set temperatures and when there are excessive delays in collections, and all of our buildings now have ready access to a defibrillator.
“We will continue to learn from this and ensure we are doing everything possible to keep those in custody safe and well.”
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman wrote in their report:
Mr Rafal Sochacki died of cardiovascular collapse caused by hyperthermia (severe heat stroke) and hypertensive heart disease in a court cell at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 21 June 2017.
He was 43 years old.
The circumstances of Mr Sochacki’s death are very disturbing. On the way to court he spent 50 minutes parked in an unventilated escort vehicle and was then held for nearly five hours in an unventilated court cell on one of the hottest days of 2017. The court’s air conditioning was not working and police estimated that the temperature in Mr Sochacki’s cell was between 34⁰C and 40⁰C at the time of his death.
I am very concerned that there were inadequate contingency plans when the court’s airconditioning failed. Staff were aware that the temperature in the cells was excessively hot and it is unacceptable that Mr Sochacki and other detainees were left in those conditions for hours.
Our investigation also found deficiencies in the way staff managed Mr Sochacki during his transfer to and time in a cell at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
We found some apparent non-compliance by Serco staff in delivering their contracted service and we have drawn this to the attention of both Serco and those responsible for the management of their contracts at HMPPS and HMCTS.