ROTL Relaxation “Absolutely what was needed”

ROTLMore prisoners are set to be released into the community on temporary licence after Michael Gove insisted it is not a “soft option” and which one expert described as “absolutely what was needed”.

The Justice Secretary said it would be wrong to allow “a very few” high-profile cases to “distract us from the long-term advantages for society” of the scheme.

Two years ago – before Mr Gove held the post – the Government introduced changes to tighten the rules after the system was thrust into the spotlight by a number of crimes.

In one in 2013 a killer given day release went on to murder a Good Samaritan. Ian McLoughlin stabbed to death Graham Buck, 66, while away from HMP Springhill in Buckinghamshire, on temporary licence.

McLoughlin, who had killed twice before, was later sentenced to a whole-life order.

Under the temporary licence system inmates can be let out for short periods towards the end of their sentence.

In a speech on Thursday, Mr Gove said the number of prisoners benefiting from release on temporary licence (ROTL) has fallen by 40% since 2013.

“So I think now is the time for a change,” he said.

Speaking of a need to enable governors to release more prisoners on temporary licence, he said: “It can only enhance public safety if prisoners can gain experience of work and life on the outside prior to full release, learning how to conduct themselves properly and contribute effectively so they can integrate successfully back into society.”

When properly used the scheme can “do a huge amount to improve a prisoner’s chances of finding a long-term job”, he argued, saying it removes the “cliff edge” between custody and liberty and “enables prisoners to adjust to the expectations and demands of society”.

He went on: “Allowing a prisoner out on temporary release is not a soft option – it is a preparation for the hard choices that life on the outside demands.

“ROTL requires prisoners to commit to proper work, the discipline of new routines and respect for new boundaries set by others.”

The scheme also helps prisoners strengthen family ties which are “crucial to rehabilitation”, Mr Gove said.

It has made “useful citizens – social assets” out of people who “once generated only pain, injury and trouble”, he added.

Mr Gove conceded that the system is not infallible, saying: “Mistakes in the past led to an understandable tightening-up of the rules. When individuals abuse freedoms, regimes will be tightened.

“But ultimately, public safety is better served by allowing prisoners to develop the skills and characteristics they need to succeed on the outside through extensive use of ROTL than it is by keeping too many prisoners inside and then releasing them ill-prepared and unready for life outside – more likely than ever to go back to a life of crime.”

He added: “Although it will take time for confidence in the system to return fully, I believe that it would be wrong to allow a very few high-profile cases, appalling though they were, to distract us from the long-term advantages for society of ROTL.

“With the help of careful assessment processes, I am confident that our reform-minded governors can identify the most promising candidates for a successful, safe, ROTL.”

The new approach is the latest strand of the Government’s ambitious and wide-ranging agenda for penal reform.

Mr Gove also highlighted the issue of prisoners who have received Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences.

He said: “There will always be some prisoners whose behaviour and attitudes render them a continuing danger to the public and who need to remain in custody for a significant time.

“But there are also – clearly – some prisoners who have served their tariff, who want to prove they are ready to contribute to society and who have been frustrated by failures in the way sentence plans have worked and bureaucracy in the parole system.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and the national prisoners’ monthly newspaper Converse, said it was ‘absolutely what was needed’.

Mr Leech said, “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for this decision, he has listened to the evidence and made up his mind on the basis of that.

“The decision of the former Justice secretary Chris Grayling in 2013 has seen the unnecessary restriction of ROTL that works against everyone.

“This relaxation of those restrictions is absolutely what was needed and it will now allow more, properly risk-assessed, prisoners to experience release on temporary licence which the vast majority of inmates respect and observe.”


Minister’s “Knee-Jerk” open Prison Review

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A violent fugitive dubbed the “Skull Cracker” is one of more than 1,200 open prison inmates serving an indeterminate sentence.

Armed robber Michael Wheatley, who failed to return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was given 13 life sentences in 2002 for a series of brutal raids on banks.

His disappearance has prompted ministers to launch a major review of the case, including a broader assessment of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) process – which one prisons expert has described as “knee-jerk..

Most recent Ministry of Justice figures show there were 1,242 indeterminate sentenced prisoners – that is, those serving life and imprisonment for public protection sentences (IPP) – as at December 31 last year. This includes 643 lifers and 599 IPP inmates in open prisons.

Scotland Yard said they were called to an address in Twickenham, south west London, last night following a sighting of the 55-year-old, who raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 while on parole from a 27-year sentence for other robberies, but he was not found.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are continuing. The Met continues to work closely with Kent Police to trace Wheatley who is being sought for arrest by police.”

Wheatley earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, including a 73-year-old woman, during the raids.

Kent Police have urged members not to approach Wheatley if he is spotted, but to dial 999 instead.

Wheatley, originally from Limehouse in east London, has links across south east England.

Wheatley admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm – a blank firing semi-automatic pistol – in October 2002.

The robberies between June 2001 and April the following year were mainly on small branches in areas Wheatley knew, ranging from Southampton in Hampshire to Royston in Hertfordshire.

The first was just three weeks after he was paroled from his first prison term.

As the robberies continued, so did the violence he used towards staff and customers.

In March 2002 he pistol-whipped a 73-year-old woman and a building society manager.

The Old Bailey heard at the time that he would often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head, leaving many mentally anguished.

His raids netted him more than £45,000.

He was given a five-year sentence on each of the firearms offences to run concurrently with the life sentences on each of the robbery charges. He was ordered to serve a minimum of eight years before being eligible for consideration for parole.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said temporary licence can be an important tool to help offenders reintegrate into communities but that “it should not be an automatic right”.

Ministers have said there will be a toughening-up of the licence scheme so that prisoners are subjected to stricter risk assessments and tagged.

Mr Wright said: “In future, when prisoners are let out on temporary licence, they will be tagged, more strictly risk-assessed and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released.

“Temporary release can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate but it should not be an automatic right.

“There will be a full review of this case which will look at the ROTL process.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Of course there should be a review into any breach of safety and security but, to put things in perspective, Government figures show the main lessons to learn from open prisons are that the Prison Service has achieved a year-on-year reduction in absconds and that release on ROTL has succeeded in significantly reducing the risk of re-offending.”

Conservative backbencher Philip Davies said that whoever had allowed Wheatley out of prison was “a berk” and questioned why he was in an open prison in the first place.

The MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire said: “It is completely ludicrous that a serving life sentence prisoner is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.

“As far as I am concerned, whoever allowed him to be in an open prison should be sacked. It is a complete disgrace.

“The top priority for the Prison Service should be the protection of the public. (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling needs to put in charge of the Prison Service someone who will see protection of the public as a top priority.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons on England and Wales however said the ROTL review was simply a “knee-jerk” reaction.

Mr Leech said: “All the evidence suggests that the ROTL system works well, the vast majority of prisoners released on it abide by the trust placed in them – but it is not an exact science.

“If anyone is ‘a berk’ it’s Philip Davies, who clearly doesn’t understand that all life sentence prisoners must go to an open prison as a precursor to release – it’s part of what is a successful life sentence release policy and has rightly been so for decades.

“Prison staff can only use the information available to them to make an assessment as to a potential ROTL failure, and if no information is available they can hardly be blamed for getting it wrong.

“The ROTL review is a knee-jerk reaction that is unnecessary and will if anything cause some open prison inmates to flee because they fear a return to closed conditions – Minister’s should have the courage to defend the ROTL system not undermine it.”


Second-Time Killer Murders Again On Day Release


A triple killer has been jailed for a third time for the murder of a pensioner who was stabbed when he went to help his convicted paedophile neighbour who was being robbed in Hertfordshire – experts argue it must not damage the release of life sentence prisoners.

Ian McLoughlin, 55, above, was given life with a minimum of 40 years at the Old Bailey after he admitted killing Graham Buck in Little Gaddesden in July.

Mr Buck, 66, suffered fatal stab wounds when he responded to cries from the home of 86-year-old Francis Cory-Wright in the village near Berkhamsted.

McLoughlin was on day release from prison where he was serving a life term for the murder of Brighton barman Peter Halls, whom he stabbed multiple times in 1992.

He had previously been jailed for the manslaughter of Len Delgatty, 49, in 1984, whom he hit over the head with a hammer after a row, before leaving his body in a cupboard.

Mr Justice Sweeney said that he was barred from passing a whole life term because of a European judgment that those sentences are in breach of human rights.

The judge said: “The implementation of a whole life order within the current legislative framework in this country is in breach at the time of passing of sentence of article three of the European Convention.

“It is not appropriate to impose a whole life term.

“However even for a man of 55 years of age, the minimum term of years must be a very long one indeed.”

He read part of the victim impact statement from Mr Buck’s wife Karen who said: “To kill him was the most senseless, vicious act of violence.

“His family, friends and I will never be able to make sense of what happened. There was no justifiable reason and we will be left with that thought, and of his pain and suffering, for the rest of our lives.”

She said breaking the news of the death to her daughter was “the worst act I have ever had to carry out in my entire life

McLoughlin met Mr Cory-Wright in prison, and turned up at his house on July 13 while on day release from HMP Spring Hill, claiming to need help setting up a charity supporting elderly ex-offenders.

Mr Cory-Wright was jailed for 30 months in 2011 for indecently assaulting a 10-year old boy in the 1970s.

The meeting began pleasantly, but McLoughlin then grabbed the 87-year-old from behind and demanded to know where he kept his “gold and silver”.

He tied him to his bed, stuffed silver family heirlooms into a pillowcase and demanded bank cards and pin codes.

Father-of-three Mr Buck, who lived two doors away from Mr Cory-Wright, went to help him after hearing shouting in his front garden.

In police interview, McLoughlin said: “I’m not sorry for what I did to the nonce, but I’m sorry for what I did to the pensioner.”

He said he was confronted by Mr Buck as he tried to flee Mr Cory-Wright’s house, dragged him back into the kitchen and stabbed him in the neck.

Witnesses described seeing Mr Buck with his throat slashed “wide open”, prosecutor Ann Evans said. He died on his front lawn, with his pet dog sitting beside him.

Mr Justice Sweeney said: “The photographs I have seen make it clear that it is no exaggeration to say that the slash was wide enough to put a fist in.”

McLoughlin also admitted robbery and was given eight years to run concurrently.

The court heard details of his history of violence. When he killed Mr Delgatty, 49, he hit him over the head with a hammer several times after a row and left his body in a cupboard.

He also tied a towel around his neck to reduce the blood loss and the noise of the blows.

McLoughlin was jailed for 10 years for manslaughter at the Old Bailey, reduced to eight years on appeal.

After his release, he went to live in Brighton, where Mr Halls, 55, offered him work.

McLoughlin said he assumed Mr Halls was gay and thought he might be expected to sleep with him.

Ms Evans said: “The defendant claimed that Mr Halls confessed to liking young boys and … that he took holidays in Morocco for under-age sex.”

McLoughlin stabbed Mr Halls several times and had served 21 years behind bars before killing Mr Buck.

Speaking outside the court after sentence, Mr Buck’s wife, Karen, said: “Today has brought to a conclusion the first part of a long journey for myself and Graham’s family.

“The sentence handed down by Mr Justice Sweeney today reflected the seriousness of the crimes Ian McLaughlin committed.

“However, at the end of the day, it does not change anything. I would once again like to thank everyone who has helped and supported us through the period since Graham’s death, especially the police officers, the family liaison officers, and all our friends, neighbours and colleagues.

“Many questions still remain unanswered at this stage, and I await the Ministry of Justice’s inquiry into day release of prisoners with interest.

“Graham’s death has left a hole in many people’s lives. He will be missed but he will not be forgotten.”

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the murder of Graham Buck must not be allowed to damage the day release system for life sentence prisoners.

“Risk assessments, which are carried out on every lifer who goes on day release, is not an exact science.

“Of course if prison staff had any idea that murder or robbery was McLoughlin’s intention that day he would have been back inside a closed prison pretty much instantly – but McLoughlin’s plans were known only to himself.

“McLoughlin’s case must not be allowed to damage the very good system of releasing life sentence prisoners on day release which, over 50 years, has proved itself to be a valuable tool in assessing trust and reliability even if on the rare occasions like this when it goes wrong – it goes horrifically wrong.”