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Criminal Justice: Sonnex Case

Volume 711: debated on Monday 8 June 2009


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the case of Dano Sonnex.

Last Thursday, Sonnex was convicted with Nigel Farmer of the brutal and sadistic murder 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 I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies to the families of the two young victims of this appalling crime. I have twice met the families 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, police and probation. Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk, or considered for multiagency public protection arrangements, 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 The allegations were subsequently withdrawn, so the police pursued the matter no further.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 this incident merited nothing more than a formal warning. This was clearly a further error. The seriousness of the allegation warranted a revised risk assessment and referral to a multiagency public protection panel. This did not take place.

In the event, Sonnex did comply with his licence requirements until 23 April, 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 light of the alleged offence. However, at a 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. But exactly what transpired is still not clear. What is clear is that Sonnex should not have been released onto 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 that should have altered Sonnex’s risk assessment. The recall was not submitted for approval to the NOMS Public Protection Unit until 12 June, which turned it around promptly and issued the recall revocation notice to the police the next day. The probation service labelled the recall as ‘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. This was a wholly unacceptable delay, and, tragically, too late for Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, as it was the same day that 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 these young men when he could and should have been locked up. This was not a question of poor resources, but of poor judgments and poor management within London Probation, as well as errors by the Metropolitan Police and the Prison Service. As Secretary of State responsible for the probation and prison services, I take responsibility for their failings, and the Metropolitan Police take responsibility for theirs. On behalf of each agency, I have apologised to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, and I do so again today.

Let me now set out the action that has been undertaken since these failures came to light in July last year. After the murders, London Probation held an immediate ‘serious further offence’ review into the case. This was completed in October 2008. In light of its findings, a more detailed NOMS investigation was established. Having considered this report, 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 having 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 the IPCC’s subsequent recommendations, and 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 subjected 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 to my honourable friend the Prisons and Probation Minister on progress, and my honourable 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 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 they manage offenders presenting a risk of harm, in light of the failings in this case.

All the investigation reports 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 House Library.

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

When serious offenders are released into the community having completed their sentence, 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 standards have improved. The safety of the public and the memory of the two young men whose lives were so brutally taken demand no less”.

I commend this Statement to the House. That completes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join him in expressing—as I think everyone in the House would want to—our deepest sympathy to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. All of us were deeply shocked at the horrendous murder of those two young students by Dano Sonnex and Nigel Farmer. I think all of us agree—as the Minister made clear in the Statement—that nothing can excuse or detract from the personal responsibility of the perpetrators of these murders. However, no one can ignore the serious and systematic failures across the entire criminal justice system that led to those tragic deaths, nor this Government’s gross dereliction of their first duty—to protect the public. Having said that, I am grateful that at least we had from the Secretary of State for Justice—as repeated by the Minister—a full acceptance of responsibility.

The independent review into this case found errors of judgment, failures of communication and inadequate staffing levels. I say in passing, that the noble Lord told us that this was not a matter of resources and boasted, as always, of an increase in resources, but then said that there was underspend in London. I shall ask later whether that was a case of underspend in advance of further cuts in his department’s budget. It also found wrong assessments and a whole series of systematic failures. Does the noble Lord accept that, faced with failings so wide and deep, it is inappropriate to single out one official for blame? Does he recognise the succession of breaches for which Ministers have, in the end, to bear the primary responsibility as a failure of government?

The noble Lord gave some account of the career of Dano Sonnex, a dangerous criminal who slipped through every part of the system. His risk rating was mysteriously downgraded from high to medium. The probation officer in charge was overworked and overwhelmed. Even at this stage, tragedy was avoidable. Sonnex then—as the noble Lord told us—tied up a relative and her partner, held a knife to her throat and threatened them with a hammer. Fortunately, they managed to escape. Can the noble Lord explain just how, after that, Sonnex only received a verbal warning? He was then arrested for handling stolen goods. Obviously, these are only the crimes that we know about; there may be more. He was inexplicably bailed. We understand that prosecution counsel did not oppose this because Sonnex was not expected to get bail. Recall proceedings were initiated by the probation service but took over a month just to be processed. As the noble Lord admitted in his Statement, this is wholly unacceptable. By this time it was too late. I will not repeat the horrific trail of events that followed.

These failings span our courts, the probation service and the Prison Service. Does the noble Lord accept that they are the direct result of an overcrowded prison estate, which has led Ministers to put concerted pressure on the courts and probation staff not to use custody, even when, as here, it was vital to protect the public? That is the primary duty of the Government. Does he accept that the failure to deliver on yet another IT system—namely C-NOMIS, which links the courts, prisons and the probation service—left staff ill-equipped to cope? The failure of IT systems is quite a constant complaint against the Government. Would the £40 million or so squandered on C-NOMIS have been better spent on strengthening front-line officer capacity? Does the Minister accept the independent review’s finding that the local probation service was inadequately staffed, diluting the supervision of such a high-risk offender? Does he also accept its finding that the probation service focused on Sonnex’s employment and accommodation needs, when its number one priority, as I said earlier, should have been public protection? This is yet another symptom of the Government’s confused priorities, paralysis and lack of direction.

Now we have the Government’s response, which is merely to engage in further procedural tinkering. That is precisely the approach that the Secretary of State for Justice has adopted today. For example, probation officers will get new guidance and a new template for managing high-risk offenders. Such is the gulf between the challenges facing the probation service and the Government’s capacity to meet them. I come now to the question of increased resources. The noble Lord said that there was an underspend in the London region. We understand that there will be some £30 million of fresh cuts to front-line probation services. Can the Minister confirm that? It is the equivalent of losing around 800 probation officers. Back-room bureaucracy bloats that even further.

With the Justice Department issuing directions for probation reports on those released on licence for life to be reduced from every three months to every six months, how can the Justice Secretary give the House and the public the unequivocal assurance that these tragedies will not be repeated? I have put several questions to the noble Lord. No doubt others will be put to him, but I very much hope that, in the course of the afternoon, he will take the trouble to answer mine.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement. I concur with the sympathy that he has expressed towards the families of these two young men. In April 2008, Sonnex was arrested and charged with handling stolen goods. He was remanded in custody until 16 May 2008. The probation service told the court that a recall was in process and requested that remand continue. It appears that there was a misunderstanding. The court assistant thought that the recall would commence immediately and that there would be no need to deal with the question of bail, since Sonnex would already be in custody. Bail was not opposed and was technically and actually granted because of that mistake.

The nub of the matter is that Sonnex was assessed as high risk in custody but the probation officer’s assessment, as recorded, was that he was medium risk. The result of that discrepancy was that Sonnex was allocated to an offender management unit, rather than the higher level public protection unit. What was the reason for that? First, his probation officer had only been qualified for nine months and had a caseload of 127, which she inherited on appointment from an officer who was on sick leave. Immediately, on appointment, she was given 127 cases to handle. Her immediate superior was acting up and subsequently failed the assessment for permanent promotion. Levels of sickness and vacancy in the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich are much higher than elsewhere and staff at all levels reported that they were overwhelmed with work. The most experienced probation officer had been qualified for just two years. These staff were put in charge of a person who had been assessed as presenting a high risk of dangerous behaviour.

Secondly, probation officers were discouraged from classifying offenders as high risk unless it was absolutely necessary, due to overstretch in the public protection unit. Such was the degree of overstretch that staff in the local public protection unit had issued a joint grievance statement in September 2008. The probation service was under conflicting pressures to recall cases speedily to ensure public protection on the one hand, but to avoid recalling them unless it was absolutely necessary on the other. They had to be sure that it was absolutely necessary because of prison overcrowding. It is wrong, then, to say that resources had nothing to do with this. One must look at the wider system. The resources that are made available to the criminal justice system have been slanted not towards the probation service but towards the creation of more and more prison places. This is a matter about which we have constantly complained from these Benches and we will do so again during the Bill that will start its Committee stage tomorrow.

The problems are not rooted in individuals. Indeed, only one individual was criticised in the report and was disciplined simply by being given a written warning. It is not an individual failure; it is a failure of a chaotic prison policy and, in this case, a failure to implement effective IT systems. Chronic staff shortages have contributed to the failures that have been identified and the errors were not of judgment. The key error was inexperienced and inadequate supervision of Sonnex’s probation officer. That, of course, arises from a lack of resources. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed out, London Probation’s budget had not been completely used up. It is clearly a question of putting more resources into the probation service and reducing the pressure on the resources required for prison. There has to be a complete rebalancing of the way in which we deal with offenders. Certainly, offenders who are dangerous should be retained in custody, but many more could be released from prison without danger to the public; that would release resources for preventive work in the wider sense.

I have only one question for the Minister in relation to the report of the IPCC investigation. That does not appear to have been released. The Minister said in the Statement that one police officer has been disciplined, but we were told nothing more. The report has not, as I understand it, been put into the public domain.

My Lords, on that last point, as I understand it, headlines on the main points of that IPCC report have been published in the usual way, but not the full report. That is the usual way that these things are done. Before I continue, I thank both noble Lords from the Front Benches very much for what they had to say about this terrible case.

I do not wish to be long in responding, but a number of points clearly need answering. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked about the assault allegation made against Sonnex days after he had been released. The complainants in that case withdrew their allegations and, consequentially, the police felt that there was no case against Sonnex. But of course, in the circumstances, that should have led the relevant probation service people to realise that something urgently needed to be done in terms of this man. That was one of the failings in this case.

As far as the prison estate is concerned, it is not right and proper to say that this tragic double murder took place because too many people were in prison. The fact is that at least one person should have been, but was not, in prison on the day when Sonnex committed this murder. Nor is it right to say, in our view, that resources were at the heart of this matter. The truth is, as the director-general of NOMS said the other day, that,

“This particular office was running very badly, there were very high levels of sick”.

The average number of sick days taken off was 27 per year. That was much higher than the overall average. The director-general continued:

“staff were therefore dealing with too large a caseload. It wasn’t being managed properly, which is why I think there were serious management failures”.

He went on to say:

“We are sorting out those management issues and joining up prison and probation better to make sure information passes better”.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked why an underspend was recorded in 2008-09. London Probation frankly should have aimed to make full and effective use of the budget that was allocated for that year. We do not recognise the figure that has been suggested of £30 million in cuts. Indeed, it is important to point out the amount of money that has been poured into the probation service over the past number of years—not just nationally, but into the probation service in London. I should point out to noble Lords that in 2001-02 the figure was £94 million; in 2008-09 it was £153 million. The number of probation officers nationally has increased by a large amount in the past 12 years or so. In particular, the number of probation service officers has increased by a huge amount in that time. There has been a lot of investment in the probation service. I am afraid that these tragic events happened because this particular part of the probation service in London just was not managed well in any sense at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said that staff were discouraged from assessing offenders as high risk, due to resources. We do not accept that for a moment. This has never been the case. We have been looking hard to make sure that appropriate risk assessments are made in every case.

I think I have dealt with the questions that have been raised. This remains an absolutely tragic case and it is very important that everyone who has responsibility for it should take responsibility for it. That is what the Secretary of State has done and that is why he came before the other place to make this Oral Statement about this case.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us a little more about the nature of the offences for which Sonnex was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in 2003? The offence for which he was arrested on 23 April 2008, and subsequently recalled, was not one of violence, but of handling stolen goods. Can the Minister say more about the circumstances of that offence, and whether there was any suggestion of violence at that time? The Statement is very hard on the failings of the probation service. No doubt, there were serious failings on its part, but does the noble Lord agree that the critical failure was the failure of the Metropolitan Police to execute the recall warrant between 13 and 29 June 2008? Can he say more about the reasons for that apparently unexplained delay?

My Lords, I shall do my best to assist the House on the questions that the noble and learned Lord properly asked. The original crime committed on 13 May 2002, when Sonnex was 16 years old, was an unprovoked stabbing of a young man known to the accused. The victim received injuries to his chest and back, and he sustained a collapsed lung. On 13 September 2002, various robberies were committed by Sonnex. He was in possession of a blank firing pistol and a knife, both of which were used. He was then arrested and remanded in custody three days later, before coming before the court on 13 March the following year, 2003, and given a total of eight years’ detention. At that time he was under 21. I am afraid I am not in a position to tell the noble and learned Lord what the facts of the offence of handling stolen goods were, except to say that until that time Sonnex had been clever enough not to breach the terms of his licence—he had turned up weekly. After that hearing he was bailed.

I know that the Statement is hard on the probation service—the noble and learned Lord is right. My right honourable friend was careful to say—I repeat it now—that the point is not to unduly tarnish the work of those many dedicated professionals who deal each day with very dangerous and unpredictable individuals in the probation service. The noble and learned Lord points out that one of the worst aspects of this case was the delay between the police being told that this man should be picked up and his being picked up. We agree with that, although other important errors had been made before that time, not the least of which was the granting of bail on 16 May, and also the wrong description of him as being medium rather than high risk when he left prison.

Why was there such a long delay before his arrest? The recall notice about Sonnex was classified as “standard”, which means that action is dealt with when resources allow. The target time for this response is 96 hours. The matter should have been brought to the attention of the daily management meeting, however, for a decision. This did not happen due to confusion about responsibilities and misinterpretation. There is no excuse for what happened.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister could help the House on two matters. First, is it generally the policy of the police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police, that if serious allegations are made and then withdrawn, so far as they are concerned generally speaking that is the end of the matter? There may be a number of reasons why such allegations are withdrawn and threats are certainly a possible explanation. Secondly, in relation to the grant of bail, that was presumably a decision of the court. I am not sure who, under present arrangements, is responsible to account to Parliament for that. Has that been investigated and exactly what happened in that particular grant been identified?

My Lords, as far as the police were concerned, I do not know whether they passed on the fact that this particular allegation had been made and then withdrawn. I can tell the noble and learned Lord that, as part of his seemingly good conduct towards his licence, Sonnex was clever enough to tell his probation officer that there had been this allegation made against him and no doubt went on to say that it was completely false and that it was proved to be false because the police were not continuing with the action. That is one way in which the probation service knew that this allegation had been made.

As far as why bail was granted, as the Statement says, it is not absolutely clear, but it sounds as though there was a confusion between the prosecution service, which was under the assumption not to oppose bail for the comparatively minor offence of handling stolen goods, because it presumed he was going to be rearrested as soon as he left the dock, and the fact that that did not happen. When he was formally granted bail by the court, he left the court a free man. It was an inexcusable mistake.

My Lords, my noble friend has said that Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk or considered for multi-agency public protection arrangements, both of which, he has said, would have resulted in more intensive community supervision. Is not the sad fact of this case that, even if there had been more intensive community supervision, the tragedy could still have happened because, however intensive, it would still not have been comprehensive, 24-hour supervision? It is so easy to criticise members of the probation service who work in very difficult circumstances and with very difficult individuals. There seems to have been a hint in what my noble friend said that perhaps the probation service was rather more concerned with the welfare of the offender than with public protection. We see the fact that he was assessed as medium risk, as standard rather than emergency, and so on.

However junior the front-line individual, or however shortly after their training this happened, was the failing in part a failure to refer up to someone who was more experienced? Were there failures of management in that sense, which could have produced a more mature judgment in respect of this individual?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend when he talks about the marvellous work that the probation service does in general. I accept that in any case, however intense supervision is, you may get people committing terrible crimes when they are on licence. That is true. In this case, this particular defendant, at the time the murder was committed, should have been in custody. That did not happen, however. The reason why he was considered high risk in prison was because he was seen by a doctor some years before, not long after he had started his long sentence, who, as I quoted in the Statement, had said that Sonnex thought he was capable of killing. Obviously, therefore he would have been considered high risk. When he came out of prison, because he was then an adult over 21, he was for some reason described as just a medium risk. Events followed on from that.

The very junior or very inexperienced probation officer who had the misfortune to have control of this case, along with many others, sought advice from those above her. I am afraid that the advice she got was not good advice.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will have read the very responsible and dignified statement made by David Scott, the chief probation officer of London, in accepting responsibility for this case and resigning. I am sure he will know as well that, in addition to being chief probation officer of London, David Scott was elected by his peers to be head of the National Association of Probation Officers, which was founded collectively to give a voice to the probation service which was denied to it when the post of director of the National Probation Service was removed under the latest NOMS agency directive. This meant that there was no professional head of the service.

In that statement, he drew attention to some of the problems that he was facing. Before I ask my direct question, I must make two challenges to the Minister on what he said. Talking about budgets, I have already quoted in this House the statement made by the auditor of the London probation service that trying to manage that budget was akin to trying to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp because of the frequent changes of rules, the late arrival of money and so on. Therefore to just say it was an underspend is unfair to the probation system, which was always working under considerable problems, put on it by NOMS, to enable it either to know how much money it had got or how it could spend it.

As far as officers are concerned, the National Association of Probation Officers stated at the same time that, despite all the money that has been put in and all the extra probation service officers and bureaucrats, there has been a 9 per cent reduction in the number of probation officers. It is probation officers who should be dealing with people of the capability of Sonnex.

My question reverts particularly to David Scott, a very senior, highly regarded, widely respected person. The decision was taken that he should either be called upon to resign, or something else should happen. I think the Minister said in the Statement that this was some time between October when he submitted his report and February. Was the encouragement to resign given to him personally by the Secretary of State or by the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, or was it left to some subordinate?

My Lords, I recognise the expertise of the noble Lord in this field. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to the direct question he asked me about how it came about that Mr Scott resigned. I accept that the remarks of Mr Scott are dignified, as he describes them, and it is no part of my function here today to make that position any worse.

I know that there are genuine arguments about probation between the noble Lord and others and the Government, but some facts are indisputable: many resources have gone into probation over a number of years and the number of probation officers is higher. That there were considerable problems in London, and in particular in Greenwich and Lewisham, has to be acknowledged. However, sometimes the fault is not a lack of resources but is just managerial failure, and I think that that is what it was on this occasion.

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me on one main point. It seems to me that the two failures that caused this dreadful affair were, first, the one raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and, secondly, the granting of bail. I do not understand how bail was granted in this case and I should be very grateful if my noble friend could say what level of court granted it. Presumably probation officers were present and no doubt they gave the court information about Sonnex’s previous convictions and offences. Perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service thought that it did not really matter because it knew that he would be rearrested as soon as he came out of court. Is that normal practice? If so, it seems to be extraordinarily dangerous. Finally—I think that what I am really asking here is something that I am not supposed to ask—once the application for bail had been made, why did the judge come to the conclusion that he did? I do not know whether my noble friend can help me on any of those matters.

My Lords, I shall do my best but I cannot help my noble friend too much because, as the Statement said, in the end the granting of bail is inexplicable. It took place in the magistrates’ court. I do not believe that the probation officer was present in court, but on that day there was communication between the probation officer and the Crown Prosecution Service, and so, as I understand it, the Crown Prosecution Service was aware that this man was wanted on licence. No doubt the defence solicitor made the application on the basis that this was a clearing-up exercise and that there was no point in remanding this man in custody for handling stolen goods when there were much bigger issues involving him, and therefore bail was given. I am in danger of employing guesswork, which I must be careful not to do, but I think that my noble friend and I can agree that the giving of bail was a dreadful mistake.

My Lords, there seems to be an inference that a lot of the problems were associated with the probation service, but I think that it is getting a slightly hard hearing because, looking at this in the round, it would appear that the failings went right across the board. Indeed, I would argue that some of them were strategic failings.

The Minister has told us repeatedly that the underspend of the budget almost proves that the resources were not being managed, and that therefore the issue was not resources but the mistakes made in the system. I recall that in a debate on 14 May the noble Lord told us about the cuts that the Ministry of Justice had to make in this area. I reminded him that Napo says that some 50 per cent of the 400 probation officers being trained will not be given assignments at the end of their training later this year. Can the Minister tell us whether, looking forward, he is now reassessing the impact of those budget cuts on the case load of the probation service, particularly when such junior people are given so much responsibility?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. There were failings across the board, and I hope that neither I nor the Statement has suggested that they were purely down to the probation service. They were not; the failings, which led almost inevitably to this tragedy, were much more widespread than that.

It is right that until now training has not always matched the number of jobs that are out there. However, I can tell the noble Baroness that the Government had planned to make a Statement about the future training of probation officers. As I understand it, it will be made tomorrow, although it may be delayed.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that there are two ways of approaching this terrible tragedy? One is to examine in detail each and every mistake and omission and to say, “There is the amalgam of coincidences that has brought about this outrageous situation”. However, another way of approaching it is to look at the heart, core and kernel of the underlying situation, which, I suggest with great respect to the Minister, is one of resources. I understand that in the London probation area the average case load for a probation officer is 90 cases, which is much too high. Secondly, as we heard, the officer in this case had been in post for nine months and was dealing with 127 cases. In the circumstances, is it not utterly unrealistic to say that this is not a resource matter? Although I appreciate that Her Majesty’s Government have generously added to the budget of the probation service over the years, they have also generously added to the service’s responsibilities on a massive scale. In the circumstances, will the Minister undertake to look at this central feature and to approach the issue directly and swiftly?

My Lords, we maintain that resources were not the central issue here. Other high-performing areas had similar budget pressures, both inside and outside London, and they continued to deliver a much better service than that delivered by this area of Greenwich and Lewisham. Of course we take into account what the noble Lord says about the general issues concerning the probation service, but I think that we sometimes have to accept that disasters and tragedies of this kind happen because of managerial inefficiency and not just because there are insufficient resources. Here, we maintain that the amount of money that the London probation service and, in particular, the Greenwich and Lewisham probation service received was sufficient for them to do the work that was necessary. Unfortunately, that work was not well managed.