Basic probation safety checks ‘still not being carried out despite failings’

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Probation officers must adopt a ‘more inquisitive’ approach rather than taking criminals who claim they’ve gone straight at face value, a watchdog has said.

Too many officials are not investigating what is going on ‘behind the scenes’ when they meet offenders to discuss whether they have been rehabilitated.

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation said staff need the skills to challenge freed criminals who may be trying to pull the wool over their eyes – just as London Bridge attacker Usman Khan persuaded officials he was not a risk before going on his murderous rampage in November.

CCTV still of Joseph McCann who was found guilty of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment


CCTV still of Joseph McCann who was found guilty of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment

CCTV still of Joseph McCann who was found guilty of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment 

‘We need staff to demonstrate a more inquisitive approach rather than taking things on face value,’ said a senior probation inspector.

‘They should take a more proactive approach to investigate what’s going on behind the scenes.’

There had been repeated examples of probation officers failing to ask sufficiently thorough questions, across each region of England and Wales, the inspectors added.

The report on the National Probation Service, published today, also provided further evidence that too many probation officers regard offenders as their main focus rather than victims of crime.

It said some probation officers selected to work as victim liaison officers (VLOs) did not want to take part in such a role and preferred to work with criminals instead.

‘VLOs are often… allocated to the VLO role on starting in the organisation,’ it said.

‘This can be problematic, given that individuals may have joined the organisation to work with offenders, and may not wish to, or have the necessary skills to, work with victims,’ it added.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said many officers are struggling under ‘unacceptably high workloads’ with more than 650 vacancies for the jobs being advertised across England and Wales.

There was also a strong case for an internal review into probation failures in the case of Joseph McCann, Mr Russell said. 

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McCann, 34, a convicted burglar, had been released from prison following a probation error in February last year before embarking on a string of sex attacks on 11 women and children across England.

London Bridge attacker Usman Khan persuaded officials he was not a risk before going on his murderous rampage in November

London Bridge attacker Usman Khan persuaded officials he was not a risk before going on his murderous rampage in November

London Bridge attacker Usman Khan persuaded officials he was not a risk before going on his murderous rampage in November 

During a cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage, his victims were aged between 11 and 71 and included three women who were abducted off the street at knifepoint and repeatedly raped. He was handed 33 life sentences last month.

Asked if a probation service ‘serious further offence’ review into the McCann scandal should be made public, Mr Russell said: ‘There is a strong argument there is a public interest in that and how that is managed with the victims.’

The probation service normally refuses to publish the results of inquiries into its own failings.

Meanwhile, London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan was released from Whitemoor prison last November after officials decided he seemed sincere about abandoning his extremist views. 

A former Scotland Yard officer who mentored Khan following claimed he raised a ‘red flag’ to the Home Office and probation service about the convicted terrorist’s behaviour eight months before his fatal attack – but his concerns were ignored.

 Mr Russell’s wide-ranging report also found the probation service, which supervises around 105,000 high-risk offenders, is not diverse enough.

Most of its staff are women.

‘Newly recruited probation officers have been predominantly white females, and the staff profile is currently 70 per cent white female,’ the report said.

‘The NPS workforce is not sufficiently diverse.’

Yvette Howson, one of HM Inspectors of Probation, said: ‘Over 90 per cent of the people [probation officers] are working with are male. There may be some people who are better supervised by someone of their own gender.’

The NPS has a workforce including 6,500 probation officers and an annual budget of more than £500million.   



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