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Construction Programme

4. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): What recent progress has been made on the construction programme for the London 2012 Olympics. [278221]

Tessa Jowell rose—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Give him a job!

Tessa Jowell: Any day.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) for his question. All the major venues on the Olympic park are either on schedule or ahead of schedule. [Interruption]. I thought that he would like some good news today. The International Olympic Committee’s co-ordination committee, during its visit in April, described progress to date as “nothing short of astounding”. We will be very happy to facilitate a visit to the Olympic park for any Member.

Some 34.1 per cent. of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s programme is now complete. Construction has now commenced on all five major venues, and construction of the Olympic stadium is now one year in and remains ahead of schedule. Excellent progress is being made on the aquatics centre, and the roof that will form the gateway to the games is already taking shape in the skyline. Construction has also begun on the international broadcast centre, the main press centre and the velodrome.

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Stephen Pound: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. During the riotous celebrations that followed Labour’s victory over the Conservatives in Ealing last night, my thoughts naturally turned to the Olympic construction programme. Ealing is an olympian borough, if not an Olympic one, and we are acutely conscious of the legacy of the infrastructure that she is building. Will she please keep foremost in her mind the fact that future generations, including generations unborn, will look to the physical legacy of the Olympics to progress Britain’s sporting supremacy?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Additional money is being invested in the legacy purposes of all the Olympic venues, so that they will be the preferred training place for young people and local communities for many years to come.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The only venue yet to be constructed that continues to cause controversy is the shooting venue. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) would have raised that issue had there been time to call his question, which is next on the Order Paper. The key issue is clearly cost. The shooting authorities make the claim, which was repeated in the House of Lords at the end of last week, that it would be £10 million cheaper to build the venue at Bisley. The Olympic Board clearly rejected that at its meeting last month, saying that it would be considerably cheaper to build it at Greenwich. At the previous Olympics questions the Minister undertook to publish a full set of costings so that we could all make a judgment. Is she in a position today to say when that will be, so that we can all make a judgment one way or the other?

Tessa Jowell: No, I am not in a position either to publish the figures today, or to say when we will. [Hon. Members: “Terrible!”] It is not terrible at all; the figures are subject to sensitive commercial negotiation. When we are in a position to publish them, I shall do so. There was wide consultation leading up to the Olympic Board’s decision last month. That decision has now been taken, and I hope that we will be able to proceed to develop the venue at Woolwich as decided.

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Sonnex Case

3.33 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the case of Daniel Sonnex. Last Thursday, Sonnex was convicted with Nigel Farmer of the brutal and sadistic murders of two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. They were killed on 29 June last year at their flat in New Cross, in the London borough of Lewisham.

I know that I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the two young victims of this appalling crime. I have met those families on two occasions and have discussed the case with the French ambassador. The families will continue to be given every possible support in their time of grief.

Sonnex was a serious criminal. At the time of the murders he could and should have been in custody. The background is as follows. In 2003, Sonnex was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for multiple offences. He behaved violently in prison and admitted to a prison medical officer that his “reactions could kill”. He was released from prison on 8 February 2008, the latest date he could lawfully be held in custody, having twice been refused parole. He was on licence, liable to recall, until 11 October.

On Sonnex’s release, there were serious failings by prison and probation staff. Potentially crucial information, such as that from the medical officer, which I have just quoted, was not shared between the Prison Service and the police and probation services. Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk, nor considered for multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—both of which would have resulted in more intensive community supervision.

Within days of release, Sonnex and another individual were alleged to have tied up a relative and her partner and violently threatened them. The allegations were subsequently withdrawn, so the police pursued the matter no further. Probation staff then judged that the incident merited nothing more than a formal warning. That was clearly a further error. The seriousness of the allegation warranted a revised risk assessment and referral to a multi-agency public protection panel. That did not take place.

In the event, Sonnex complied with his licence requirements until 23 April last year, when he was arrested for handling stolen goods and remanded in custody. On 3 May, his offender manager initiated the process to recall him to prison in the light of the alleged offence. However, at the handling stolen goods court hearing on 16 May, Sonnex was granted bail.

From the record of the hearing, it seems that the prosecutor believed that Sonnex was being recalled to prison anyway, and consequently did not oppose bail. However, exactly what transpired in the court and its margins is still not clear. What is clear is that Sonnex should not have been released on to the streets that day.

The recall process was then poorly handled and subject to unacceptable delay by probation staff. In addition, the police failed to share information with probation services, which should have altered Sonnex’s risk assessment. The recall was not submitted for approval until 12 June
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to the National Offender Management Service public protection unit, which turned it around promptly and issued the recall revocation notice to the police the next day. The probation service labelled the recall “standard” rather than “emergency”, which meant that the police target time to return Sonnex to prison was 96 hours instead of 48.

The execution of the warrant was complicated by police concerns about whether Sonnex had access to firearms. In the event, the police did not attempt to serve the warrant and arrest him until 29 June. That was another wholly unacceptable delay, and, tragically, too late for Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, as it was the same day as the murders were committed.

While responsibility for the murders lies with the perpetrators alone, the successive failings that I have outlined meant that Sonnex was free to kill those young men when he could and should have been locked up.

Those failures were not a question of poor resources, but of poor judgments and poor management in London Probation, as well as errors by the Metropolitan police and the Prison Service. As Secretary of State responsible for the probation service and the Prison Service, I take responsibility for their failings, and the Metropolitan police take responsibility for their failings. On behalf of each agency, I have apologised to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, and I do so publicly again today.

Let me now set out the action that has been undertaken since those failures came to light in July last year. After the murders, London Probation held an immediate “serious further offence” review into the case. It was completed in October 2008. In the light of its findings, a more detailed NOMS investigation was established.

Having considered the latter report in late January, I determined with senior officials that the situation in London Probation warranted the most severe intervention statutorily available to me and that the chief officer of London Probation would be suspended pending the results.

Having been informed of this decision and reviewed the investigation reports, the chief officer very honourably accepted responsibility for the failures and resigned on 27 February. Pending recruitment of a permanent replacement, I approved the appointment of an experienced former chief officer, Paul Wilson, to lead London Probation from March. Meanwhile, London Probation conducted disciplinary investigations into the staff directly responsible for managing Sonnex, which determined that the failings were due to factors beyond their control. As a result, one individual received mandatory retraining, but no formal disciplinary action was taken.

Separately, in July 2008, the Metropolitan police referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Met has accepted both of the IPCC’s subsequent recommendations, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will ensure that they are urgently implemented by every force. One police officer received a disciplinary warning. The Met now has a unit in each borough dedicated to arresting wanted offenders. It has also put in place revised systems with other agencies to improve information sharing and ensure the identification and timely arrest of such offenders.

In February this year, I agreed, following the chief officer’s departure, that London Probation’s performance should be subject to the most intensive scrutiny available.
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London Probation is also taking steps to provide far greater senior-level scrutiny and prioritisation of high-risk offenders. The new London director of offender management will report monthly on progress to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), the Minister with responsibility for prisons and probation, and my right hon. Friend will update Parliament in the autumn.

In March, I asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation, Andrew Bridges, to conduct a series of case inspections in London. Mr. Bridges has completed the inspection covering Greenwich and Lewisham, where Sonnex was managed, and has published his findings. Further reports will be published in the coming months. If I am not satisfied that there has been significant progress, I will not hesitate to intervene again. Finally, every probation area in the country has been instructed urgently to re-examine the way in which it manages offenders presenting a risk of harm, in the light of the failings in this case.

All the reports to which I have referred were published last Thursday as soon as the verdicts were known. Their recommendations have been accepted in full. Copies of the “serious further offence” review, the NOMS report, the chief inspector of probation’s report and a London Criminal Justice Board report are available in the Vote Office and the Library.

The failings in the Sonnex case are a matter of profound sorrow and regret to everyone concerned. It is, however, important in considering the case that we do not unduly tarnish the work of all those dedicated professionals who have to deal every day with some of the most dangerous and unpredictable individuals in our society. But nor were those failures the result of a lack of resources—probation funding has increased by 70 per cent. in real terms since 1997, and London Probation underspent its £154 million budget last year by £3.5 million—rather, this was a failure to use the resources available to London Probation effectively.

When serious offenders are released into the community having completed their sentences, there will always be some risk that they will offend again. However, the criminal justice system has a duty to manage and minimise that risk. Where the system failed in this case, action has been taken. I will personally be monitoring progress until I am satisfied that standards have improved. The safety of the public and the memory of those two innocent young men whose lives were so brutally taken demand no less. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement. The whole House will be shocked at the horrendous murder of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo by Sonnex and Farmer. I join the Secretary of State in sending our sympathies to their families.

Those tragic deaths were the consequence of serious and systemic failures across the criminal justice system. The independent review into the case found “errors of judgment”, “failures of communication”, “inadequate staffing levels”, wrong assessments and, finally, a whole series of “systematic” failures. Sonnex, a dangerous criminal, slipped through every crack in the system. He was serving an eight-year sentence for robberies and
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violence, yet despite 40 breaches of prison discipline, including violence to staff and inmates, he had to be released in less than five years. His risk rating was inexplicably downgraded from “high” to “medium”. The probation officer in charge was overworked and overwhelmed, but even at this stage tragedy was avoidable.

Sonnex then kidnapped a pregnant woman and her partner. He held a knife to her throat and a hammer to his head. The fact that they managed to escape was down to their bravery and a measure of luck. Will the Justice Secretary explain how, after that, Sonnex received only a verbal warning, when the incident could and should have led to his immediate recall to jail? Sonnex was then arrested for handling stolen goods. Inexplicably, he was bailed. Recall proceedings were then initiated by the probation service, but they took over a month just to be processed, and by that time it was too late.

Does the Justice Secretary accept that these systemic failings are a direct result of a number of factors? First, that fixed-term sentences are utterly meaningless because, however poor the behaviour in prison, release at or soon after the halfway point is obligatory. Secondly, that an overcrowded prison estate has led Ministers to pressurise the courts and probation service not to use custody even when, as in this case, it is vital to protect the public. Thirdly, does the Secretary of State accept that the failure to deliver on yet another information technology system—C-NOMIS, linking the courts, prisons and probation service—left staff ill-equipped to cope, and that the £40 million squandered on that system would have been better spent on strengthening front-line capacity?

Fourthly, does the Justice Secretary accept the independent review’s findings that the local probation service was inadequately staffed, diluting the supervision of such high-risk offenders? Does he also accept that the independent review’s finding that the probation service focused on Sonnex’s employment and accommodation needs, when its No.1 priority should have been public protection, is yet another symptom of confused priorities, paralysis and a lack of direction? He stated that resources were not an issue because the London section had an underspend of £3.5 million on an annual budget of £154 million, but is it not the case that this was due to the need of that section to anticipate cuts that would follow in an environment where consistent long-term funding simply does not exist?

The Justice Secretary seeks to respond to a wholesale breakdown in the system with announcements of procedural changes. Probation officers will get new guidance and a new template for managing high-risk offenders. If anyone is tempted to give credibility to this papering over the cracks, I would urge them to read the 2006 independent review into the murder of John Monckton by two dangerous criminals on probation, which revealed exactly the same basic failures to protect the public. A series of recommendations were made that, as we can see all too clearly today, have not been followed through.

Will the Justice Secretary confirm that Mr. David Scott, the chief probation officer for London who resigned in February, was brought in after the Monckton case? Will he confirm that Mr. Scott was specifically told at the time that he would be able to report back directly to the then Home Secretary on operational problems? Is
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he aware that Mr. Scott found that, after the Ministry of Justice was created, he was always channelled through NOMS, so that he felt that his concerns were not heard, let alone heeded, by Ministers, as promised? How can the Justice Secretary expect the House, or the wider public, to have any confidence in this Government’s resolve to see through his latest recommendations when they patently ignored the last ones?

That is my gravest fear. With £30 million of fresh cuts to front-line probation services, and with the Justice Secretary’s Ministry issuing directions to reduce the monitoring of those released on licence for life to once every six months, how can he give the House and the public an unequivocal assurance that these errors will not be repeated again? I fear that he cannot, because this Government’s systemic failures have put the public at greater risk.

Mr. Straw: Let me answer the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points in turn. He first asked whether it was appropriate for this man, Sonnex, to have been given a determinate sentence. Having been given such a sentence, he was released at the last possible moment, and I do not think that even the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that people should be kept in custody unlawfully. Further legislation was going through as that man was being sentenced to eight years for robbery and other violent offences in 2003, and we have now introduced indeterminate sentences for public protection. It is almost certain that, had the IPP sentence been available for this case in 2003, Sonnex would have been given it and he would probably not have been released. One of the reasons we introduced the sentence was to cope with exactly this kind of offender.

The hon. and learned Gentleman then made a number of points about computer systems, some of which have not worked out as well as they should have, but he effectively answered his own point by highlighting that what ultimately failed here was not a lack of information or any lack in the computer system, but a simple matter of judgments by people who should have reached different judgments. Faced with the information about Sonnex’s alleged kidnapping of a relative, the probation service could and should have assessed the case as presenting a much higher risk; it should not only have given him a verbal warning, but made him subject to the MAPPA procedures and probably recalled him as well. As I say, that shows the importance of the judgments made—or those that failed to be made—all the way through, which is one of the causes of the tragedies that took place.

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