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Sonnex Case

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the case of Daniel Sonnex. Last Thursday, Sonnex was convicted with Nigel Farmer of the brutal and sadistic murders of two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. They were killed on 29 June last year at their flat in New Cross, in the London borough of Lewisham.

I know that I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the two young victims of this appalling crime. I have met those families on two occasions and have discussed the case with the French ambassador. The families will continue to be given every possible support in their time of grief.

Sonnex was a serious criminal. At the time of the murders he could and should have been in custody. The background is as follows. In 2003, Sonnex was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for multiple offences. He behaved violently in prison and admitted to a prison medical officer that his “reactions could kill”. He was released from prison on 8 February 2008, the latest date he could lawfully be held in custody, having twice been refused parole. He was on licence, liable to recall, until 11 October.

On Sonnex’s release, there were serious failings by prison and probation staff. Potentially crucial information, such as that from the medical officer, which I have just quoted, was not shared between the Prison Service and the police and probation services. Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk, nor considered for multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—both of which would have resulted in more intensive community supervision.

Within days of release, Sonnex and another individual were alleged to have tied up a relative and her partner and violently threatened them. The allegations were subsequently withdrawn, so the police pursued the matter no further. Probation staff then judged that the incident merited nothing more than a formal warning. That was clearly a further error. The seriousness of the allegation warranted a revised risk assessment and referral to a multi-agency public protection panel. That did not take place.

In the event, Sonnex complied with his licence requirements until 23 April last year, when he was arrested for handling stolen goods and remanded in custody. On 3 May, his offender manager initiated the process to recall him to prison in the light of the alleged offence. However, at the handling stolen goods court hearing on 16 May, Sonnex was granted bail.

From the record of the hearing, it seems that the prosecutor believed that Sonnex was being recalled to prison anyway, and consequently did not oppose bail. However, exactly what transpired in the court and its margins is still not clear. What is clear is that Sonnex should not have been released on to the streets that day.

The recall process was then poorly handled and subject to unacceptable delay by probation staff. In addition, the police failed to share information with probation services, which should have altered Sonnex’s risk assessment. The recall was not submitted for approval until 12 June to the National Offender Management Service public protection unit, which turned it around promptly and issued the recall revocation notice to the police the next day. The probation service labelled the recall “standard” rather than “emergency”, which meant that the police target time to return Sonnex to prison was 96 hours instead of 48.

The execution of the warrant was complicated by police concerns about whether Sonnex had access to firearms. In the event, the police did not attempt to serve the warrant and arrest him until 29 June. That was another wholly unacceptable delay, and, tragically, too late for Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, as it was the same day as the murders were committed.

While responsibility for the murders lies with the perpetrators alone, the successive failings that I have outlined meant that Sonnex was free to kill those young men when he could and should have been locked up.

Those failures were not a question of poor resources, but of poor judgments and poor management in London Probation, as well as errors by the Metropolitan police and the Prison Service. As Secretary of State responsible for the probation service and the Prison Service, I take responsibility for their failings, and the Metropolitan police take responsibility for their failings. On behalf of each agency, I have apologised to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, and I do so publicly again today.

Let me now set out the action that has been undertaken since those failures came to light in July last year. After the murders, London Probation held an immediate “serious further offence” review into the case. It was completed in October 2008. In the light of its findings, a more detailed NOMS investigation was established.

Having considered the latter report in late January, I determined with senior officials that the situation in London Probation warranted the most severe intervention statutorily available to me and that the chief officer of London Probation would be suspended pending the results.

Having been informed of this decision and reviewed the investigation reports, the chief officer very honourably accepted responsibility for the failures and resigned on 27 February. Pending recruitment of a permanent replacement, I approved the appointment of an experienced former chief officer, Paul Wilson, to lead London Probation from March. Meanwhile, London Probation conducted disciplinary investigations into the staff directly responsible for managing Sonnex, which determined that the failings were due to factors beyond their control. As a result, one individual received mandatory retraining, but no formal disciplinary action was taken.

Separately, in July 2008, the Metropolitan police referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Met has accepted both of the IPCC’s subsequent recommendations, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will ensure that they are urgently implemented by every force. One police officer received a disciplinary warning. The Met now has a unit in each borough dedicated to arresting wanted offenders. It has also put in place revised systems with other agencies to improve information sharing and ensure the identification and timely arrest of such offenders.

In February this year, I agreed, following the chief officer’s departure, that London Probation’s performance should be subject to the most intensive scrutiny available. London Probation is also taking steps to provide far greater senior-level scrutiny and prioritisation of high-risk offenders. The new London director of offender management will report monthly on progress to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), the Minister with responsibility for prisons and probation, and my right hon. Friend will update Parliament in the autumn.

In March, I asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation, Andrew Bridges, to conduct a series of case inspections in London. Mr. Bridges has completed the inspection covering Greenwich and Lewisham, where Sonnex was managed, and has published his findings. Further reports will be published in the coming months. If I am not satisfied that there has been significant progress, I will not hesitate to intervene again. Finally, every probation area in the country has been instructed urgently to re-examine the way in which it manages offenders presenting a risk of harm, in the light of the failings in this case.

All the reports to which I have referred were published last Thursday as soon as the verdicts were known. Their recommendations have been accepted in full. Copies of the “serious further offence” review, the NOMS report, the chief inspector of probation’s report and a London Criminal Justice Board report are available in the Vote Office and the Library.

The failings in the Sonnex case are a matter of profound sorrow and regret to everyone concerned. It is, however, important in considering the case that we do not unduly tarnish the work of all those dedicated professionals who have to deal every day with some of the most dangerous and unpredictable individuals in our society. But nor were those failures the result of a lack of resources—probation funding has increased by 70 per cent. in real terms since 1997, and London Probation underspent its £154 million budget last year by £3.5 million—rather, this was a failure to use the resources available to London Probation effectively.

When serious offenders are released into the community having completed their sentences, there will always be some risk that they will offend again. However, the criminal justice system has a duty to manage and minimise that risk. Where the system failed in this case, action has been taken. I will personally be monitoring progress until I am satisfied that standards have improved. The safety of the public and the memory of those two innocent young men whose lives were so brutally taken demand no less. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement. The whole House will be shocked at the horrendous murder of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo by Sonnex and Farmer. I join the Secretary of State in sending our sympathies to their families.

Those tragic deaths were the consequence of serious and systemic failures across the criminal justice system. The independent review into the case found “errors of judgment”, “failures of communication”, “inadequate staffing levels”, wrong assessments and, finally, a whole series of “systematic” failures. Sonnex, a dangerous criminal, slipped through every crack in the system. He was serving an eight-year sentence for robberies and violence, yet despite 40 breaches of prison discipline, including violence to staff and inmates, he had to be released in less than five years. His risk rating was inexplicably downgraded from “high” to “medium”. The probation officer in charge was overworked and overwhelmed, but even at this stage tragedy was avoidable.

Sonnex then kidnapped a pregnant woman and her partner. He held a knife to her throat and a hammer to his head. The fact that they managed to escape was down to their bravery and a measure of luck. Will the Justice Secretary explain how, after that, Sonnex received only a verbal warning, when the incident could and should have led to his immediate recall to jail? Sonnex was then arrested for handling stolen goods. Inexplicably, he was bailed. Recall proceedings were then initiated by the probation service, but they took over a month just to be processed, and by that time it was too late.

Does the Justice Secretary accept that these systemic failings are a direct result of a number of factors? First, that fixed-term sentences are utterly meaningless because, however poor the behaviour in prison, release at or soon after the halfway point is obligatory. Secondly, that an overcrowded prison estate has led Ministers to pressurise the courts and probation service not to use custody even when, as in this case, it is vital to protect the public. Thirdly, does the Secretary of State accept that the failure to deliver on yet another information technology system—C-NOMIS, linking the courts, prisons and probation service—left staff ill-equipped to cope, and that the £40 million squandered on that system would have been better spent on strengthening front-line capacity?

Fourthly, does the Justice Secretary accept the independent review’s findings that the local probation service was inadequately staffed, diluting the supervision of such high-risk offenders? Does he also accept that the independent review’s finding that the probation service focused on Sonnex’s employment and accommodation needs, when its No.1 priority should have been public protection, is yet another symptom of confused priorities, paralysis and a lack of direction? He stated that resources were not an issue because the London section had an underspend of £3.5 million on an annual budget of £154 million, but is it not the case that this was due to the need of that section to anticipate cuts that would follow in an environment where consistent long-term funding simply does not exist?

The Justice Secretary seeks to respond to a wholesale breakdown in the system with announcements of procedural changes. Probation officers will get new guidance and a new template for managing high-risk offenders. If anyone is tempted to give credibility to this papering over the cracks, I would urge them to read the 2006 independent review into the murder of John Monckton by two dangerous criminals on probation, which revealed exactly the same basic failures to protect the public. A series of recommendations were made that, as we can see all too clearly today, have not been followed through.

Will the Justice Secretary confirm that Mr. David Scott, the chief probation officer for London who resigned in February, was brought in after the Monckton case? Will he confirm that Mr. Scott was specifically told at the time that he would be able to report back directly to the then Home Secretary on operational problems? Is he aware that Mr. Scott found that, after the Ministry of Justice was created, he was always channelled through NOMS, so that he felt that his concerns were not heard, let alone heeded, by Ministers, as promised? How can the Justice Secretary expect the House, or the wider public, to have any confidence in this Government’s resolve to see through his latest recommendations when they patently ignored the last ones?

That is my gravest fear. With £30 million of fresh cuts to front-line probation services, and with the Justice Secretary’s Ministry issuing directions to reduce the monitoring of those released on licence for life to once every six months, how can he give the House and the public an unequivocal assurance that these errors will not be repeated again? I fear that he cannot, because this Government’s systemic failures have put the public at greater risk.

Let me answer the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points in turn. He first asked whether it was appropriate for this man, Sonnex, to have been given a determinate sentence. Having been given such a sentence, he was released at the last possible moment, and I do not think that even the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that people should be kept in custody unlawfully. Further legislation was going through as that man was being sentenced to eight years for robbery and other violent offences in 2003, and we have now introduced indeterminate sentences for public protection. It is almost certain that, had the IPP sentence been available for this case in 2003, Sonnex would have been given it and he would probably not have been released. One of the reasons we introduced the sentence was to cope with exactly this kind of offender.

The hon. and learned Gentleman then made a number of points about computer systems, some of which have not worked out as well as they should have, but he effectively answered his own point by highlighting that what ultimately failed here was not a lack of information or any lack in the computer system, but a simple matter of judgments by people who should have reached different judgments. Faced with the information about Sonnex’s alleged kidnapping of a relative, the probation service could and should have assessed the case as presenting a much higher risk; it should not only have given him a verbal warning, but made him subject to the MAPPA procedures and probably recalled him as well. As I say, that shows the importance of the judgments made—or those that failed to be made—all the way through, which is one of the causes of the tragedies that took place.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to inadequate staffing in Greenwich and Lewisham, and I think that he is probably right about that, as it is also the view of Paul Wilson, who has replaced Mr. Scott on a temporary basis. What has emerged from work done across London Probation is that, overall, there was no shortage of resources—there could not have been; it underspent—the problem was the way the resources were allocated. The head of London Probation and the senior supervisors failed to take account of high work loads in some boroughs and lack of work loads in others, and they failed to shift resources accordingly. They failed to notice, for example, that although the average sickness rate across all London boroughs was already too high at about 13 days a year, it was running at 27 days a year—five and a half weeks—in Greenwich and Lewisham. That, alone, should have alerted senior managers to the problems that had to be faced.

Let me deal with the overall effectiveness of London Probation and of probation services more generally. I hesitate to use these figures—they are not being quoted by me or others in any way as an excuse for the failings that took place—but it happens to be the case that starting from a lamentable period of performance about a decade or so ago, there has been year by year improvement, including in recent years, in London Probation’s recall performance. It was down at a third 10 years ago, but it is up to 88 per cent. for the most recent period—and we intend to increase it still more.

As for money, I am happy to take lectures from some others on that subject, but not from the Conservative Front-Bench team, which is committed to further cuts. The money for London Probation has gone up by 62 per cent. since 2001 and by 16 per cent. since 2005. The probation service budget is not being cut by £30 million—not at all. In common with other public services, it is facing tighter budgets than it had before, but that is from a position of very generous settlements over many years.

It is typical of my right hon. Friend to come to the House to accept responsibility for the failings of his Department, but I am afraid that what he has said will not satisfy the parents of those who have died. Anyone who has read the victim impact assessment statements will know that the parents do not feel that what has been said so far has been satisfactory. My right hon. Friend talks about an increase in resources, but last year, as he said in an answer to me, the number of sick days in the probation service was 239,000. Replacing the chief executive of London Probation is simply not sufficient. Will he give the House an assurance that he will seek a very early meeting with the new Home Secretary, who has just left the Chamber, to address the communication problems so that when a request is made in the future, it is implemented immediately rather than in 33 days, which is the time it took for the last request from the probation service to be implemented by the police?

I will talk—indeed, I have already done so—to the new Home Secretary. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for his comments. As I have highlighted in my answers to him, the level of sickness in some parts of London Probation was simply unacceptable. Given the shock created by this lamentable failure, as with the shock felt about similar previous incidents, improvements have been made, but we have to ensure that we raise the overall standard of management of the probation service, the police and the Prison Service in the handling of these dangerous offenders.

I, too, thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

This is a grim and dreadful case. I agree with the Secretary of State that ultimately the blame must lie with the evil individuals who carried out these appalling crimes, but the authorities must accept some degree of responsibility where their actions have contributed to creating the opportunity for crimes to be committed. That is why the right hon. Gentleman was right to apologise to the families of the victims for the failures across the criminal justice system: the Prison Service, the probation service, the Courts Service and the police. However, I must question his view that all the failures were failures of individuals or of management, and not failures of policy.

The right hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly that there was not a problem with overall resources, only a problem with the way in which those resources were allocated. Will he confirm what independent research has found—that the number of front-line probation officers in London fell by more than 700 between 2002 and 2006? If resources are not a problem, why has he announced the provision of 100 more probation officers in London? Surely that announcement itself flatly contradicts his argument.

The Secretary of State referred to the £3.5 million underspend in the London probation service, but did not answer the question put to him by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). May I ask that question in a slightly different way? Will he tell the House precisely how the underspend came about? Is it not the case that underspends often happen because of too frequent changes of policy, and because politicians demand change on unrealistic time scales, so that managers do not know how to plan for the long term? Can the Secretary of State guarantee that nothing of that sort happened in this case?

What explains the extraordinary figures relating to the inexperience of the probation officers concerned—nine months’ experience in the case of one officer at the centre of these events, and only two years’ experience in the case of the supervising officer? What has happened to all the experienced officers?

Let me turn to the subject of the Prison Service and the mistakes that were made about the classification of Sonnex as medium risk. The Secretary of State recognises that part of the problem must have been the chaotic state of the C-NOMIS project. Is it not the case—the right hon. Gentleman has not answered this question properly yet—that the extra millions that the Government claim to have put into the probation service were thrown at that failed project? Do the Government not take responsibility for that failure, or is it merely managerial as well?

Finally, let me deal with the issue of the police. The crucial question is, why did they not take Sonnex into custody in the 16 days between his recall and the murders? Could that failure have anything to do with the fact that at the time national police targets were all about sanction detections, so the kind of work involved in taking Sonnex back into prison would have been a low priority?

There are questions to be answered here, not just by individual officials on the operational side of the criminal justice system but by those responsible for policy, and ultimately that includes the Government.

I have made it clear from the moment when this matter became public last Thursday that I accept responsibility for the failures that have happened. They were mainly, but of course not exclusively, failures—I was going to say “failures by individuals”, but they were failures within an environment as well. I am not suggesting that the authorities should not—if I may pick up the phrase used by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth)—accept some degree of responsibility. Of course they do: London Probation does, so does the National Offender Management Service, so do the Metropolitan police, and so do I.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a figure relating to a decline in London probation officer numbers which I simply do not recognise. The figures that I have show that between 2003 and 2007 inclusive—I do not have last year’s figures—there was a net increase in the number of senior probation officers and probation officers as a whole. That included a decline in the number of senior probation officers, an increase in the number of probation officers, and a very big increase in the number of probation service officers. Across the country, there has been an increase between 1997 and 2007 of getting on for 200 in the number of probation officers and senior probation officers, and an increase of more than 4,000 in the number of probation service officers. The money that has been put in has, therefore, gone principally on additional staff, as well as greatly improved training.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the inexperience of the probation officers who were expected to supervise Sonnex. That was terrible, and it is one of the reasons I have been extremely anxious throughout all my public comments not to suggest that that individual probation officer was responsible for the errors that were made. To do so would be unacceptable, because of the fact that somebody of such inexperience was put in charge and that they were given far too high a case load, despite neither being necessary given the resources available within the service.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned C-NOMIS. In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) made the decision to stop C-NOMIS—to reduce its scope. His decisions, for which I commend him, have been endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee, and a reduced C-NOMIS will be operational next year. It is not the case that it sucked resources away from front-line probation services.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about national police targets. They have been one of the contributory factors that have led to a significant reduction in crime, which affects all our constituents, but they had nothing whatever to do with the failures here. The police had the target, which should have been shorter, to arrest Sonnex within 96 hours—four days. They palpably failed to meet that target, when they should have done, and that should be seen along with the other failures elsewhere in the system.

This was obviously an absolutely horrific crime and there were some inexcusable failings in how it was dealt with, such as failures to share information. The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that it was not a matter of resources, but he has also said that staffing levels were inadequate in that part of the probation service. How many cases was this inexperienced officer being asked to handle, and how confident can the Secretary of State be that officers will not be in a similar position in future given that we are expecting significant cuts in probation service budgets over the next few years?

The officer was handling about 120 cases, and for the level of work load and responsibility, it should have been 50 or 60; that is accepted. The issue, however, is that resources were not allocated properly either across different London boroughs according to their needs, or within each borough according to the priority that ought to be given to offenders. Too little was going to high-pressured boroughs and, in a sense, too much was going to those that could have managed with rather fewer resources.

How confident am I that the service can manage? I am as confident as I can be. As my hon. Friend knows from experience, it is impossible in any system to guarantee that an offender released from prison, however long they have served and however serious their parole reassessment, will never commit a further offence. Life is not like that, I am afraid, and we would be deluding the public if we said that we thought otherwise. We are, however, taking every step we can to improve the system and ensure that this kind of appalling thing is less likely to happen.

Is the Justice Secretary seriously claiming that, if there had not been a 2.5 per cent. underspend in the London probation service and there had been some reallocation of resources, the case load, supervision levels and experience of the officers involved would have been adequate throughout the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich? Does he also recognise that the shattering effect on public confidence of this case and the Monckton case is so great that in order for us to have a system of licensing, which any good prison system needs, an enormous effort will have to go into winning public confidence in the fact that soundly based decisions are made and that they are effectively implemented?

I am quite clear, and I have been assured of this, that there was no reason why within existing resources there should not have been a more sensible case load and more experienced officers allocated to cover such a case, even in London. Indeed, in general, including in London, this kind of case is covered by more experienced and better supervised officers.

On resources, I must repeat the point that an almost unique level of sickness of, on average, five and a half weeks for the staff in that office was ridiculously high and should have alerted senior managers to the fact that there were some endemic problems requiring immediate effort.

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the issue of release on licence—public confidence has been damaged—but it is far better for such offenders to be released on licence than simply to be dumped in the community, which is what used to happen.

May I ask the Secretary of State to focus on the issue of early release during a sentence? Where a person is sentenced to eight years—or to eight months, for that matter—one can understand their being released after half their time if they have behaved well in prison, but if they have behaved disgracefully is there not an argument for their being made to serve their full sentence? If that does not happen, what is the point of their behaving well? I am sure that many of us would find it quite offensive to hear that this person committed 40 breaches of discipline yet still came out.

Had this man behaved properly and also presented a very low risk of reoffending, he would have received parole—he was refused that on two occasions. I accept, however, the burden of what the hon. Gentleman says, which is that there are some offenders who ought to stay in prison until it is safe to release them. That is why we introduced, to some controversy, the sentence of indeterminate detention for public protection. More than 5,000 offenders are now on an IPP and it is having a salutary effect on them.

It is not different; an IPP would have applied in this case, but the provision was not on the statute book when this man was sentenced in 2003.

One must question the culture of an organisation that imposes the management of a criminal of this degree of evil on someone who is so inexperienced and who has such a case load—they had about 100 other cases to manage. The Secretary of State ought to be able to give the House a cast-iron guarantee today that criminals of such calibre will simply not be managed in this way in the future.

I give the House, and the hon. Gentleman, the guarantee that I am determined to ensure that this kind of failing does not happen. What I cannot do, because we are dealing with thousands of staff and many thousands of potential offenders, is give an absolute guarantee—nobody in my shoes could do so—that there will never be failings of this kind. I pray to God that there will not be any such failings, but I cannot guarantee it.

The Justice Secretary knows that hundreds of probation officers throughout England and Wales are grossly overworked and have far too many cases with which to try to deal. Why are these cuts now affecting recruitment? In Wales, 41 of the 44 probation officers who will qualify in October will be without jobs, and the situation is the same from Humberside to Somerset. I fear that this sort of thing will happen again—please God that it does not.

There is an issue to address about the fact that, at the moment, those on training to do probation work are not necessarily matched to jobs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) is about to issue a new consultation on changing the training of probation officers, and I commend that to the House. Part of that will involve ensuring that there is a direct match between the places available for training and the guarantee of a job at the end of it; that will be better all round. There has been a reduction in vacancies because of the overall economic climate, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the probation service, be it in Wales or elsewhere, will suffer serious cuts. Money is tighter than it has been, but it is tighter from a high base.

To return to the issue of length of sentence raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), this criminal was imprisoned for eight years and, according to the Secretary of State, behaved violently there and admitted to a prison medical officer that his reactions could kill, so many people will be surprised to learn that the maximum sentence that he could serve was only five years. There does not seem to be much transparency in sentencing, and that will not restore the confidence of the British people. If a sentence is eight years, should it not be eight years?

This should not be a party political issue, but this man was sentenced under Conservative legislation, he had to be released at the two thirds point and the licence lasted only until the three quarter point. We have tried to change that structure. We could say that prisoners should serve exactly the sentence that is awarded by the courts, or we could have minimums and maximums, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) suggested—effectively what we have at the moment. However sentences are denominated, we need to have incentives for good behaviour and penalty periods for bad behaviour. We also need to take into account the fact that the prison population is rising and will continue to rise, and resources—although they should be increased—are finite. Those are realities that affect Governments of every persuasion.

The statement understandably concentrated on the probation service, but if events on 16 May had been handled correctly, two young men would be alive today. Sonnex was brought before the courts on a completely separate offence and was granted bail, when that should never have happened. In the statement, the Secretary of State says that it is still not clear exactly what transpired on that day. How can we have no idea why someone was given bail when he should have been in prison?

I try to tell the truth in this House, and I wish I could give a better account of what happened in that court, but I cannot. Magistrates courts are not courts of record, and there is a wholly inadequate record of what transpired. It is clear that no application to oppose bail was made by the prosecution. It also appears clear that the reason no application was made was that inquiries had suggested that Sonnex was due to be rearrested for a breach. It is clear that the information available to the court was flaky. The answer to the question about whether he was about to be rearrested was not pinned down, and the Attorney-General, the police service and Her Majesty’s Courts Service are determined to ensure that this does not happen again. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if this man had been remanded in custody on 16 May, as he had been on 3 May, none of the rest of this would have happened.

In south-west London in recent weeks people have seen the eventual conviction of John Warboys, a cab driver who had come to the attention of the police but who then went off the radar and committed a string of serious offences against women, and now the case of Dano Sonnex, who came from a criminal and violent family and had been sent to prison for eight years for stabbing and other serious knife crimes. Sonnex had said that he felt he could kill, but on his release that information was not passed to the Prison Service or the probation service. It would be helpful if the Home Secretary gave an assurance—it is a Home Office and a Ministry of Justice matter—that when people with such criminal records, or facing such allegations, emerge into society, senior police and probation officers are in charge of their ongoing management. If that were done, it would be some reassurance that the lapses that happened in this case would not happen again.

I basically agree with the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the whole Sonnex issue with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Stephenson, and with the acting deputy, Tim Godwin, and they are seized of the need to improve the police’s performance in this case. The terrible error happened in court on 16 May, and if the probation service had acted within targets and if the police had acted properly within their slightly longer targets, Sonnex would not have been available to commit those murders on 29 June.

The recall failure was at the centre of this atrocity, and those failures went far wider than just the probation service. In fact, they come right back to this House. There should be greater powers to force the immediate recall of dangerous criminals and potentially dangerous people. When will this House start to err on the side of protecting innocent people—the public—rather than on the side of the rights of potentially dangerous criminals?

We have been much criticised for it, but that is what we have been seeking to do in recent years. If the hon. Gentleman goes through all the reports—I have published every report that has been made available to me—he will see that there is no suggestion whatsoever that the recall powers available to the probation service and the police were inadequate. This man could and should have been assessed as a high risk and probably recalled when he was alleged—just alleged—to have kidnapped a relative. He certainly should have been recalled when he was arrested and charged with handling stolen goods. Without any question, the full powers were there. The National Offender Management Service—the one agency to come out of this properly—turned the application round within 24 hours, as it was required to do. It was there. It was an issue not about powers, but about judgment and the use of powers.

Bill Presented

Citizens’ Convention (accountability and Ethics) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Martin Caton, supported by Norman Lamb, Mr. Douglas Carswell, Mr. David Drew, Julia Goldsworthy, Jim Dowd and Norman Baker, presented a Bill to set up a Citizens’ Convention for the purposes of establishing minimum standards of ethics for Members of Parliament and for promoting the involvement of citizens in political decision making; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 106).