Page last updated at 23:34 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 00:34 UK

Probationers commit murder a week

Dano Sonnex
One high profile case this year was that of double murderer Dano Sonnex

Criminals on probation committed more than 1,000 serious crimes over the last two years, including nearly one murder a week in England and Wales.

The government figures give details of the 1,167 offences committed by people being supervised by probation officers.

The total included 94 murders, 105 rapes and 43 arson attacks.

The Ministry of Justice said there was a decline in the twelve months to April 2009, which saw 28 murders compared to the previous year's 66.

There was also a drop in the number of rape cases to from 62 to 43.

Justice minister Claire Ward said the rate of serious further offence convictions was low at 0.3% last year, and paid tribute to frontline officers.

She said the government was always working to have the best supervisory systems, but added "offenders alone" were responsible for their crimes.

The murder figure was down on last year's statistics, which showed probationers were convicted of 120 murders - as well as 103 rapes and 80 kidnappings - in England and Wales, in the two years from April 2006.

In most cases, nothing in their previous offending histories has indicated that they would be capable of such serious offences
Claire Ward
Justice minister

This year's Ministry of Justice figures showed a further 657 criminals on probation were found guilty of serious violent or sexual crimes.

More than 400 other criminals are accused of committing serious further offences, but their cases have not yet come to trial.

The details were revealed in the 2008 Offender Management Caseload Statistics, which reveals details about the scale of the prison and probation workload.

Separate figures released showed the prison population in England and Wales had grown to a record high of nearly 84,000 - up 66% since 1995.

Ms Ward added that any serious offence was "of great concern".

"We send our sympathies to the victims of such crimes. The offender alone is responsible for their crimes, and for the terrible impact they have on victims and their families.

"We are constantly working towards having the best possible systems in place to supervise offenders in the community and protect the public."

She said the serious re-offending rate of 0.3% was a "tribute" to the "hard work and dedication of probation officers, who deal on the frontline with some of the most dangerous and unpredictable people in our society."

"The vast majority of serious further offences are committed by offenders given a community order by the court having been convicted of less serious offences.

"In most cases, nothing in their previous offending histories has indicated that they would be capable of such serious offences."

'Utter regret'

Last month, Dano Sonnex was found guilty of the murder of two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. They suffered hundreds of stab wounds in the attack by Sonnex, 23, and another man, Nigel Farmer, 34.

Failures by probation, police and the courts left him free to kill when he should have been in prison.

The chief probation officer who resigned over the botched handling of Sonnex expressed his "utter regret".

David Scott accepted his service was "partly to blame" but also spoke of the probation service straining under heavy workloads of complex cases, with insufficient qualified staff to monitor them.

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