Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Report reveals probation failings

Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo
Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo were stabbed more than 200 times

A review of London's probation service has found standards have worsened since the murders of two students, which led to the head of the service resigning.

Inspectors found work in just 54% of cases met the level needed to ensure the public was well protected.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said: "Improving the performance of London probation is a significant priority."

Dano Sonnex killed Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez after the Probation Service failed to return him to prison.

Sonnex was jailed this summer for the sadistic killings of the French students, who were stabbed more than 200 times.

After the trial it emerged the probation officer handling the case was deluged with work.

The results of this inspection were disappointing
Chief inspector Andrew Bridges

The revelations prompted the resignation of David Scott, the head of London probation.

Many of the problems revealed at the time and which were linked to the failure to promptly order Sonnex's return to prison remained, the report said.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation found probation officers were struggling under the pressure of large caseloads, staff sickness and an unreliable IT system.

Chief inspector Andrew Bridges said: "The results of this inspection were disappointing.

"We have noted that there are a number of factors that have made it difficult for London staff to carry out effective practice.

Staff 'overwhelmed'

"These included high numbers of particularly difficult offenders, some high individual caseloads - sometimes exacerbated by staff sickness - and an IT system that often froze or failed altogether."

Staff working in offices with high sickness levels told inspectors they were "overwhelmed". Others said they felt "unsupervised and unsupported" by bosses.

It is important to note the measures which have been put in place during and after the inspection period
Justice Minister Maria Eagle

The inspectors found, in some cases, managers were prepared to approve unsatisfactory work.

Mr Bridges praised staff for their efforts to clear the backlog of cases, but said they were forced to work on computers that would run slowly or freeze, sometimes for days at a time.

In eighteen cases criminals were rated at too low a risk level, the report said.

Only a quarter of high-risk offenders were visited at home after their sentence as required and in only 40% of cases did officials pay enough attention to the safety of victims.

Ms Eagle added: "At the beginning of 2009 we became aware of serious issues with the management of London Probation so requested that Andrew Bridges carry out a thorough review of public protection work within the area.

"It is important to note the measures which have been put in place during and after the inspection period.

"The report acknowledges that the new chief officer's work has been needed and the improvements will be more visible across London next year."

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