09:25, May 22 53 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-22 09:25:06
Victims of serious crime 'failed by London probation service'

Victims of violent and sexual crimes are not being given enough support by “wholly unsatisfactory” London probation services, according to a report by the sector’s inspector.

In at least one in five reviewed cases, victims of serious crime were not offered access to a statutory scheme that keeps victims of serious offences updated on offenders.

The victim contact scheme (VCS) allows victims to find out for how long an offender will be in prison, if there are any changes to their sentence, and when they will be released.

Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, said: “Some victims are not being offered a service at all, while others are receiving a service that is simply not good enough.”

She added that following “significant, parliamentary and public interest in the London division’s work”, it was “deeply concerning to see that some victims of serious crime are still being failed by the service”.

The Ministry of Justice faced a backlash in 2018 after it initially granted parole to the serial sex attacker John Worboys. In response to the report, published on Wednesday, the government department said “improvement was clearly needed”.

Worboys’ victims only learned of the decision to release him from prison through the media because they were either contacted too late or not told.

The London branch of the National Probation Service (NPS), which manages more than 17,000 offenders, was given an overall rating of “requires improvement”.

The NPS is a public body established in 2014 to oversee the supervision of high-risk offenders, while the rest of probation services were outsourced to private companies known as community rehabilitation companies.

Inspectors were also concerned about other aspects of the division’s work to protect the public. In one in five examined cases, the probation officer did not have regular enough contact with the offender they were supervising to “manage and minimise the risk of harm safely”.

Staff shortages were partly blamed for the service’s shortcomings, with the report noting that the London division had more than 150 unfilled job vacancies and was relying heavily on agency and temporary staff.

Under the VCS scheme, victims of violent or sexual crimes can also apply for licence conditions after the release of an offender to stop them from contacting them.

Last week, the government announced the probation sector would be renationalised in England and Wales, five years after Chris Grayling introduced widely criticised reforms.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We have acted quickly to address these issues by creating a new dedicated victims’ forum to improve the quality of victim support, introducing new victim-specific training and recruiting across London – with 211 new staff joining over the past year.”

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