The 9th of July 1996 was a lovely summer’s day. In a picture box pretty village in Kent Lin Russell was walking the family dog, Lucy, with her two daughters, six-year-old Megan and nine-year-old Josie. They were attacked and savagely beaten with a hammer. Lin, Megan and the dog were killed in the attack but despite appalling head injuries, Josie survived. The nation held its breath as she fought for her life with her father by her bedside.
the tragic family
The attack was carried out by Michael Stone. He had already served three prison sentences for robbery, grievous bodily harm and assault. But with term served, he was again at liberty.
Josie on the road to recovery. She's now a successful artist.
His story is a fairly typical one. Turbulent childhood with his mother marrying a total of four times. He had been placed into a care home where he was both physically and sexually abused. His criminal record dates back to the age of 12 and he became involved in shoplifting and burglary. By the time of his arrest he was a regular heroin user.
Up north we have a similar situation with Mr X who is presently at large having committed more than 50 offences in 25 years. His last offence was a rape so severe that the victim was blinded in one eye and suffered severe head injuries after being repeatedly struck with a poker. This man is incurable and he is still at large after serving the full sentence allowed by law for his crime. Any forensic psychologist/psychiatrist knows it is only a matter of time before he kills somebody.
In the aftermath of Stone and Mr X, both the Scottish and English legal systems knew they had to do something about the problem. There was a small group of offenders who were putting the public at risk. They are given short sentences as the law dictates for those individual crimes but they reoffend and they escalate. But nobody seemed to have the capability to assess the risk but after the events of 1996 something had to change.
The English responded by bringing in a new sentence IPP... Intermediate sentence for Public Protection, and a new service for Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder which consisted of 4 new units, 2 in prison, 2 in hospital. These measures were both in place by the year 2000. Fair to say that they were driven by politics not professionalism. Both of them were controversial. In the last thirteen years one has since been abolished, the other has been scaled down simply because their implementation was causing the prison population to rise by 20 inmates a week. The equivalent of one and a half big new prisons a year.
It was doing the right thing in a way that could not be sustained.
In Scotland there was a different approach; a new quango RMA and a new sentence OLR – order of lifelong restriction. The McLean committee drew up 52 recommendations in 1992- all recommendations were accepted with no controversy at all. The committee regarded OLR as an exceptional sentence for exceptional circumstances and as it remains to be thought of in that way, it is used sparingly. It has now been around for 17 years and 110 offenders are currently being held. No one given an OLR has been released, they are still considered too dangerous. The only offenders that are excluded from OLR are those found guilty of murder as they are already on life licence.
The balance is a complicated one; the rights of the offender versus the public safety.
Possible cases are referred for a risk assessment which is carried out by specially trained forensic /clinical psychiatrists/ psychologists. That risk assessment goes in front of a judge but even if the risk criteria is met – the judge does not have to hand down that sentence.
The assessors have no idea what happens to those who have been served with the restriction but everybody agrees that the resources are at the front end- i.e. the lock ‘em up end not get ‘em better end and the European court of human rights is starting to take notice of it. Even lawyers here point out that the sentence is more draconian than life licence for murder where after ten years the supervision requirement can be lifted. This is not so with OLR and remember these people are not sectioned under a mental health act, they are committed by a court of law and due process.
At the end of the report, after months on reviews and interviews, the risk assessor ticks one of two boxes. To recommenced OLR or not to.
Actuarial evidence shows that the McLean committee was right, a precise % will escalate and re-offend. But the evidence does not predict who. The statistical evidence is that most young offenders grow out it. Nobody can predict who will have that Damascus moment – when they get married or they have a kid, because of their own social network people can and do just change for the better.
Just as the tide was turning Philip Simelane stabbed school girl Christina Edkins to death on the bus earlier this year. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who had been released from prison without supervision. He was 23 years old, she was 16.
He has now been restrained under the mental health act.
Just too late.
Caro GB 09/10/13