Report into authorities' treatment of Tanis Bhandari killer will not be made public
The Herald learned a Serious Further Offence review was carried out in the wake of Mr Bhandari's death on New Year’s Day, after it was found that one of his killers - Donald Pemberton - was arrested two weeks before the murder having been spotted on CCTV brandishing weapons the previous night.
Pemberton had only recently served two months of a four-month sentence – for having a sharp article in a public place – and had been released from prison in mid-November 2014.
Court records show Pemberton was listed to appear at Plymouth Magistrates Court on January 16, 2015 as a result of the December 15 incident, for failing to comply with the terms of his licence.
His licence terms stated he was “to be well behaved, not commit any offence and not do anything which could undermine the purpose of your supervision, which is to protect the public, prevent you from reoffending and help you to resettle successfully into the community”. The case was relisted for January 23 but the offence was then withdrawn “at the request of probation”.
The Herald made a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice to determine what – if any – action was taken by Pemberton’s probation officers between December 16 and New Year’s Eve, 2014 to modify his behaviour. Sources at Plymouth’s probation service told The Herald this could have included putting him before a magistrate for the breach of his licence within days of his arrest.
Pemberton was found guilty of murder following a trial and along with Ryan Williams, was last month jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 23 years.
The Ministry of Justice, passed the request to the National Offender Management Service who in term passed it to Working Links, a public-private-voluntary partnership which won the bid late in late 2014 to run probation services as a Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) in the South West.
Since the Probation Service was controversially part-privatised by the Government, debate has raged over how accountable and transparent the new system would be. At the time the probation union NAPO said it vehemently opposed the government’s plans, predicting chaos and risks to public safety.
Serious Further Offence reviews are not made public, but a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said families of victims were entitled to a summary of the review.
A spokesman for the Dorset, Devon & Cornwall (DDC) Probation CRC said the families of those attacked by Pemberton would first be contacted by the Witness Care Unit, based in Plymouth Crown Court and run by the Crown Prosecution Service and police. A Victim Summary Report of the Serious Further Offence review would be prepared – but only if it had been requested by the families of those affected by Pemberton’s actions.
The Herald has spoken to Steven Sharpe, the stepfather of Tanis Bhandari who revealed that the family had not at any stage been approached by the Witness Care Unit and were not made aware they were entitled to any kind of review of how probation officers dealt with Pemberton in the weeks leading up to their son’s murder. The Witness Care Unit has refused to respond to The Herald’s inquiries.
In response to requests about the decision making process following Pemberton’s arrest for affray and the subsequent murder two weeks later, a DDC CRC spokesman said: “We recognise the tragedy of this incident and our deepest sympathies are with the family.
“After being made aware of the arrest in December, processes were being followed to tackle the person’s behaviour. All decisions were made and supervised by fully-qualified and experienced probation workers. Public safety is our highest priority. It is our job to help people desist from crime but we will not be successful in every case. “We strive continuously to improve the effectiveness of our services so that fewer crimes are committed by offenders managed by us. But the person responsible for this crime is now convicted and serving his sentence.
“As we continuously look for improvement, we have rigorously reviewed the specific issues identified in the case and are implementing a plan of action. We have worked with the National Probation Service, police and other partners to review and enhance our robust processes. In particular, we have improved communication with partner agencies and we are working with the police to improve access to intelligence to help us monitor offenders better and further provide timely, relevant services tailored to their situation.
“In addition, as part of Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, our service delivery and subsequent results are now more transparent than ever, ensuring the government and taxpayers can hold us to account.”
The DDC CRC spokesman told The Herald that Working Links and the Community Rehabilitation Companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and that Serious Further Offence reports were not “public documents”.
A successful petition was launched last year to ensure a full SFO review into the monitoring of David Braddon, of Caerphilly, South Wales was made public. Conner Marshall, aged 18 was murdered by Braddon in March 2015. At the time Braddon was under probation’s supervision for assaulting a police officer and drug offences.
The summary report released to Mr Marshall’s parents claimed that there was “nothing the offender manager could have done which would have predicted or prevented the offence”. Mr Marshall’s parents launched a petition to be allowed access to the full report and after thousands signed it, they were told by the Ministry of Justice the full report would be released to them.
The Herald has also learned that the Crown Prosecution Service were unaware Pemberton had been arrested for affray on December 16 – when he was seen with the two meat cleavers – until February 3, 2015 when a reviewing lawyer was asked to consider the murder charge. The paperwork for the December 16 2014 incident were sent later in February 2015 and a request for a charging decision on the affray matter was not made until February 26, 2015.
Devon and Cornwall Police have also launched their own internal investigation into the handling of Pemberton following his arrest on December 16, 2014. A spokesman said the force was “currently reviewing police involvement in this case and therefore are not able to advise further at this time.”
The last time I last looked, the story had generated the following comment:-
What is clear is that Working Links against its contract, has siphoned off Probation funding to support its other failing units.....An example here appertains to administration structures meant to be kept in place should Noms wish too reintegrate the CRC. Due to under estimating the cost of running bid to the tune of 40%, Working links is now shedding 600 posts. To find a privitised but government funded organisation to say they cannot respond to a FOI request is ludicrous meaning one way propaganda is appropriate in the Criminal Justice System. Trust me the place is a sham with bean counters with no OM experience running the DDC CRC into the ground.
I am aware the author and reporter Carl Eve reads this blog and has a keen interest in writing more about what exactly is going on in probation since privatisation.
This blog consistently warned the privateers that negative publicity would be a factor they would do well to take into account, that and the possibility of angry and disillusioned staff learning the art of spilling the beans, something professionally they have never considered before. Here we have an example from the Cambridge News concerning BeNCH:-
Private probation service for Cambridge branded 'reckless' amid crime increase fears
The privatisation of Cambridge probation services has been branded "reckless" amid fears of increase in crime and offenders being jailed for breaching orders as they now have to travel to Huntingdon.
Offenders who once attended their probation appointments at Warkworth Lodge, Warkworth Street, near Parkside police station, must now travel to Huntingon sparking anger. About 45 staff were based at Warkworth Lodge and worked for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust's at the main office in Cambridge.
Sodexo has been put in charge of probation services in Cambridgeshire under the most far-reaching privatisation in the criminal justice system.
Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge's MP, said: "I and many others warned that the changes made to the Probation Service were reckless and would cause real harm – and had Labour won the election we would have stopped them. We are now seeing the consequences of those foolish changes introduced by the Coalition Government. When people have to travel much further, out of their own community, we know that rehabilitation is more likely to fail. In recent weeks we have seen the disgraceful way G4S have been treating young offenders, and it is now very clear that there are substantial problems in the probation and justice system which the Government needs to address urgently."
A probation service insider in Cambridge, who did not wish to be named, said: "There is a lot of worry that because the low to mid-range offenders will now have to travel to Huntingdon to get support and to attend court ordered appointment there will be many more breaches of probation orders. Magistrates are handing out probation sentences but I don't know if they are aware the offender has to travel to Huntingdon now. There will be a lot more breaches and more people will end up in prison or will re-offend."
The contracts, worth £450 million handed over 70 per cent of the work of the public probation service to private and voluntary sector providers as part of Grayling's Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The public probation service retained control of services for high-risk offenders.
A Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Community (Bench) Rehabilitation Company spokesperson said: "We are moving out of our existing offices and into new buildings, as we are changing the way we deliver probation services.
"Part of our approach is to introduce new IT systems to support mobile working, where staff will have the flexibility to meet offenders in the community, in their home or out of locally-based buildings. It is not the intention to ask offenders to travel long distances, we will take the service to them. Our new approach aims to ensure the right resources are in place to reduce reoffending, protect the public and change lives."