I have little time for the Probation "Service", an organisation staffed mainly by frustrated ex-hippies with shaved heads, piercings and a bag of skunk in the back pocket. Guardian readers to a man - or these days, to a woman.
But for once they don't take the lion's share of blame for the fact that the four psychotic killers (one an illegal immigrant) who butchered Mary Ann Leneghan were on the streets. Step forward Britain's judges and magistrates.
Thomas, the gang leader, was on an 18-month community rehabilitation order imposed in November 2004 for possessing a Class C drug and possessing a bladed article. In April 2004 he had been given a community sentence for possessing heroin, cocaine and cannabis and a year earlier a referral order for possessing cannabis. Johnson, the most violent member of the gang, had a criminal career stretching back to when he was 13.
In 2001 he was convicted at the Old Bailey for abducting a 13-year-old boy with learning difficulties, hanging him upside down from a tree and beating him. He was sentenced to 3½ years’ detention.
In May 2002 he was given a conditional discharge for assaulting a fellow care home resident, and in July 2003 an 18-month detention and training order for assaulting two minicab drivers, affray and possessing a broken bottle.
A week before the murder he was given a community punishment order for possessing a Class C drug and assaulting a police officer.
If I remember correctly, the 13 year old boy didn't have any learning difficulties - until Johnson and an older boy nearly killed him. I think we're talking about this story - and I think Johnson, who stabbed Mary Ann to death, is the 13 year old. Mary Ann wasn't the first person he tortured, but good old Mr Justice Grigson ruled that he shouldn't be named.
Thirteen-year-old Michael Servante was returning from school by train when two youths, 13 and 14 at the time, took him to a building site in south London where they tortured him.
Michael's mother, Leisha Servante, said that she believed the courts should name juveniles who hurt other children.
"I think society has a right to know who we are living next to. They have been protected. We have not."
Mr Justice Grigson said: "To name them would be a very real risk to the progress that they have made and that would be detrimental to the long-term public interest that two young men should be rehabilitated."
Great progress, judge - a year later he was assaulting people. And a year after that. Chalk one to Justice Grigson.
"They were not on early release" says Judy McKnight, taking time out from the really important issues like taxpayer-funded pensions (better than anything in the private sector), or gender equality duty, to deal with those tiresome people who pay the wages.
Not this time. Johnson was given 3½ years in 2001. How come he was free to collect another 18 months in 2003 ?
But the Mary Ann Leneghan Memorial prize has to go to the unknown magistrate who sat in judgement on Thomas just a week before the murder. With two sentences already under his belt, he was charged with possessing drugs and asaulting a police officer.
Which genius magistrate thought community service was a good idea ?
UPDATE - for a realist view of community sentencing and the Probation Service, I recommend the briefing papers at the Crime and Society Research Association. Start with this one.
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