One of the primary roles of the National Probation Service is public protection. To ensure the public are protected from offenders who present a high risk of serious harm to other people, the National Probation Service has the authority to recall offenders from the community back to prison where they are in breach of the terms of their release or when it seems that the risk they pose can no longer be safely managed in the community.
But Probation can also get it wrong in failing to ensure that prisoners who do breach their licence conditions are recalled to prison, allowing those individuals the opportunity to harm others.
A particularly high profile case is that of Joseph McCann who whilst on release from prison committed multiple violent and sexual offences in April and May 2019. His case was the subject of significant media scrutiny and ultimately a review by the Chief Inspector of Probation who identified significant failings in McCann’s supervision by Probation Staff, as well as policy failures at a higher level.
Sadly, the McCann case is not a one off.
I am currently acting on behalf of Helen Roberts.
In early 2016, Helen met Simon Dorset and after a few months of dating, moved in with him.
When she first met Mr Dorset, he identified himself as Simon John North. He told her that he had been in prison for armed robbery offences and that he was subject to stringent licence conditions.
Whilst Simon was indeed on licence, in fact his sentence did not relate to armed robbery but rather multiple rapes, kidnap, attempted kidnap, wounding, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and false imprisonment; all offences which had been committed against Simon’s former partner. He had been sentenced in his real name, Simon Dorset to a discretionary life sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in September 2004. His tariff was set at 7.5 years which expired in 2011, and he was released in July 2015 at the discretion of the Parole Board.
Mr Dorset was released with standard licence conditions together with additional conditions as follows;
- To reside at an Approved Premises (AP),
- Not to approach his victim,
- To observe a curfew at the AP from 19.00 to 07.00,
- Daily AP reporting,
- To inform his Probation Officer of any intimate relationships,
- To observe an exclusion zone.
Helen quickly established that Mr Dorset was a controlling, manipulative, possessive and violent man. She was kept prisoner in her home and beaten and raped by him on multiple occasions. She was, in short, trapped in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and was unable to extricate herself.
In May 2017, Helen became pregnant.
In August 2017, Merseyside Police received a report that Mr Dorset was committing domestic abuse against Helen, and yet no action was taken.
In September 2017, Mr Dorset told Helen that they would be relocating to Huddersfield.
Upon relocation, the level of emotional and physical abuse Helen suffered escalated.
On several occasions, Helen was able to briefly escape to a Women’s Refuge.
In January 2018, Helen gave birth 6 weeks prematurely. Several days after doing so, on or about 23 January 2018 and after having visited the baby in hospital, Helen managed to escape from Mr Dorset and alert the Police.
Mr Dorset was soon arrested and following investigation, he was finally recalled to prison.
Mr Dorset was subsequently prosecuted for various offences relating to his abusive relationship with Helen and – remarkably – another woman and in June 2019 was found guilty of multiple counts of rape, controlling and coercive behaviour, threats to kill and false imprisonment. He was given a further life sentence with a minimum of 32 years in prison.
Following the conclusion of the criminal case, the National Probation Service carried out a review of Mr Dorset’s probation.
Prior to his release in 2015, an Offender Assessment System (OASys) assessment was carried out and Mr Dorset was assessed as high risk of serious harm to others.
The National Probation Service (NPS) was responsible for Mr Dorset’s supervision whilst on licence. In October 2015, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from Probation Officer OM2 to OM3.
In a Victim Summary Report (VSR) prepared by the NPS in March 2020, OM3’s management of Mr Dorset was found to be far from satisfactory and lacking in a number of respects. In October 2016, Mr Dorset’s risk of serious harm was reduced to “medium”, but without proper analysis or approval. Further, OM3’s supervision of Mr Dorset was found to be “superficial” with;
- Insufficient attention paid to his mental health;
- Insufficient focus on his specific risk factors and offending behaviour and in particular his lifestyle by reference to disclosures and changes in his circumstances; and
- Insufficient regard paid to his lack of engagement.
Yet further, the VSR also stated that there had been insufficient higher management oversight of OM3’s management of Mr Dorset (and later OM4’s management of Mr Dorset) such that OM3’s failures went unnoticed.
In March 2017, management of Mr Dorset was transferred from OM3 to OM4.
Once again, the VSR found OM4’s management of Mr Dorset to be “superficial” with records not being filed contemporaneously and when records were filed, as being “incorrect and not factual” such that the reviewer had “little confidence in his recording.” Again, the VSR established that there had been insufficient management of Mr Dorset, such that OM4’s failures went unnoticed.
My client is now bringing a claim against the Ministry of Justice for negligence and violation of her human rights in that had NPS properly supervised Mr Dorset, he would not have been in a position to abuse Helen mentally and physically from March 2015 until his recall in January 2018.
I am pleased to report that in response the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) – the governmental parent body of the NPS- have confirmed that they are willing to negotiate settlement and I am in the process commissioning medical evidence and investigating the value of the claim.
The public needs to have confidence that violent and dangerous offenders when released from prison will be properly monitored and the risks that they pose minimised, and I am pleased that the MOJ appears to recognise this; although hopefully in the next such scenario it will be preventative measures rather than damage limitation which we see the NPS performing.
All names changed.