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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
'Flawed system mismanaged killer'
By Declan Lawn
Reporter, BBC Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland man Trevor Hamilton has received the news that he will grow old in prison.

Trevor Hamilton
Trevor Hamilton was a category three sex offender

The sentence was a landmark one, but it was hardly unexpected.

Hamilton's crime was as vicious as it was grotesque, and by all accounts he has never once shown any remorse for it, or even admitted that he committed it.

More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that the authorities who dealt with Hamilton, 24, are now admitting that there were flaws in the system that was supposed to manage him.

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme, which has been investigating the risk management process with regards to Hamilton for three months, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris admitted that there had been "serious failings".

On Friday, the police, probation service, and prison service released internal reviews they conducted into the case - and they make interesting reading.

The reports paint a picture of a disturbed young man who was a flasher by the age of 12, and a rapist by the age of 17

The reports are essentially a history of how the authorities dealt with Hamilton in the time before he murdered Attracta Harron.

Mrs Harron, 65, from Strabane, vanished while walking home from Mass in December 2003.

The body of the mother of five was found four months later in a makeshift grave dug into the side of a riverbank bordering Hamilton's home. She had been battered to death.

The reports paint a picture of a disturbed young man who was a flasher by the age of 12, and a rapist by the age of 17.

Whilst in prison for the latter crime, Hamilton, from Sion Mills, showed no remorse, and every professional who came into contact with him said that he remained a serious danger to women.

They classified him as a category three sex offender - the highest risk possible.

It meant that the authorities knew he was likely to seriously harm someone in the near future.

Legal changes

Even so, he was released in August 2003.

There was no other option - whilst recent legal changes in England and Wales make it possible to keep the most dangerous offenders in prison by using an indeterminate sentence, the law in Northern Ireland does not allow for such a measure.

When he got out, Hamilton went straight back to his old life in Sion Mills.

And for the authorities, that is where the problems began.

Even though he was one of the most closely monitored sex offenders in Northern Ireland, the police and the Probation Board had only limited control over Hamilton.

He was able to drive around the locality regularly even though his probation officer had instructed him not to do so..

So why did such a dangerous man enjoy so much day-to-day freedom?

There are many reasons, some quite obvious, some less so.


Firstly, the Probation Service and the police do not have the resources to keep people like Trevor Hamilton under constant surveillance.

That means that if they really want to reoffend, they can.

Attracta Harron
Attracta Harron's body was found in a makeshift grave

Secondly, the legislation in Northern Ireland for dealing with the most dangerous sex offenders is generally agreed to be inadequate.

For instance, they are not compelled to undergo any treatment in prison.

And no matter how dangerous an offender in Northern Ireland is considered to be, they must be released into the community after serving their determinate prison sentence.

Finally, it is now becoming clear that there were systemic failures that were particular to this case.

Friday's reviews reveal that crucial information was not shared between agencies.

Risk assessment meetings were not attended regularly enough by some of the professionals involved.

Information that could conceivably have affected Hamilton's probation status got lost in a haze of oversights and bureaucracy.

Not enough leadership was shown, and at a strategic level, not enough responsiblilty was taken.

It seems that as Trevor Hamilton begins his life sentence, he leaves behind him not just a trail of grief and destruction, but a number of serious questions about how we as a society deal with offenders like him.

Watch an extract from the Spotlight special

Murderer was 'high risk' offender
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12 Apr 06 |  Northern Ireland
Labourer denies murdering woman
03 Apr 06 |  Northern Ireland
Man remanded on murder charge
28 Mar 04 |  Northern Ireland
Body found in Attracta search
05 Apr 04 |  Northern Ireland

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