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I wish to thank noble Lords for their close attention to this vital Bill, which has been hugely enhanced by the deliberations and changes that have been made in your Lordships' House. It is a tribute to the effectiveness of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, whose committee made so many helpful recommendations. I am grateful, as I have already said, to the noble Lords, Lord Goodlad and Lord Pannick, and to other noble Lords who have represented other Select Committees which have deliberated on the Bill. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—many of whose amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, courageously took on—and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. I am grateful also to my Bill team, who have been a magnificent support.

Believe it or not, it is World Oceans Day today. This was proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio and has been unofficially celebrated every year since then. However, as of today, the UN has officially declared it. I can think of no better day for this House to pass a Bill which I am sure will enhance the marine environment in many years to come. I beg to move.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I echo a great deal of what the Minister said—I was going to make the six-month point before he pre-empted me. I think that we have had 17 sessions, and there has hardly been a sitting week when there has not been a day on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. It has been an extraordinary marathon. During the passage of the Animal Health Bill the Liberal Democrat Front Bench consisted of my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth and me, so I hope that the Government do not bring along any more Bills for us in the near future.

I understand that the Minister is moving out of Defra and is taking on greater responsibilities in DECC. We congratulate him on that and thank him—I believe, on behalf of the whole House—for his work during his time as a Defra Minister, which has not been as long as some. During my time here this House has benefited from some really good Defra Ministers, regardless of politics, and the Minister will go down in the record book as one of them, if only for this Bill if for nothing else.

I thank all Members of the House for their co-operation, which has been so important. That includes the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the Conservative Front Bench as well as old sparring partners such as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. The Bill came to the House with great hope and expectation, but quite a lot of fear that the Government really did not mean what they had said while the Bill was in gestation. It had a huge amount of work done on it during the years before it came here, including in the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on which I was privileged to sit. I believe that while it has been here, we have given it a very thorough scrubbing down. It has also been significantly improved, which is a tribute to the whole House. I am very pleased that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have been able to contribute to that. I am very grateful indeed for the support I

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have had from our team, which has made my life a great deal easier. I include my noble friend Lord Tyler, who abandoned us after Committee stage for other places, as well as my noble friends mentioned by the Minister. I refer in particular to my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, whose expertise on the conservation side I found very valuable, and to my noble friends Lord Livsey and Lord Wallace of Tankerness for their Welsh and Scottish input. I will not say that my noble friend Lord Wallace is the predominant expert on Scotland in the House; I will say that no one is better than him. He knows as much about Scotland as anyone for obvious reasons.

The ministerial team, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who has entertained us on a number of late evening sessions with his wit and his ability to talk about anything at any time of day or night in the hope that the rest of us go to sleep and do not pursue it further—I say touché to that—has been combative, has discussed and argued the case, and has then listened, understood and come back with compromise and consensus and understanding and explanation. They have been absolutely wonderful. Finally, I should like to say that the Bill team has been brilliant. Of all the Bills I have been closely involved with in the nine years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, this is the best Bill team I have ever come across. It is a huge team obviously, because it is a huge Bill—but they really have been good. The amount of work, effort and discussion that they have been prepared to put in—beyond the call of duty, outside the formal sessions—has been superb. That has been a major contribution to the fact that this Bill really is a good Bill leaving this House.

When this Bill finally gets through the House of Commons and becomes law, perhaps the Bill team leader, Mrs Linskey, might take six months off and write the definitive work on the relationship between devolution and the maritime environment. We send this Bill to the House of Commons with continued hope and expectation. All we can do is hope that the House of Commons will improve it further and then send it back to us for our final approval.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords who are here for the following programme for the delay but it is one of the delights of this House that, at the conclusion of the debates on the Bill, we have a chance to say thank you. I should like to start with acknowledging the role played by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as principal Minister on the Bill. We are very sorry that he is relinquishing the Defra brief but he has been incredibly busy over these past few months, in particular with the responsibilities for this Bill.

I shall turn, if I may, to those to whom I owe the greatest debt—my own team. I have been really well supported, not only from the Front Bench but also from the Back Benches. I am grateful for the support I have had from my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lord Goodlad and my noble friend Lady Byford. I thank my noble friend the Duke of Montrose and my noble friend Lord Cathcart for their particular support. Contributions from all parts of the House have greatly strengthened the quality of our debates, built as they have been on the work of the Joint Committee of both

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Houses, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, which has given an authority to much of what we discussed.

The Ministers have listened to the debates with respect and that respect is reciprocated. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Davies of Oldham, have, as I said, responded to our debates and listened to our concerns. The Bill is so successful because they have been prepared to listen and, more to the point, to act. They and the Bill team will be delivering the Bill in much better shape than it was when it arrived. After the debates in this House the Bill will move on with the authority of this House and in a much better condition. It is a great challenge to establish marine conservation zones for the first time and to establish the right of access around our coast. These are great challenges and the legislation has in some cases been very complex. I join other noble Lords in the thanks they have given. A long journey it may have been, but it has been well worth while.

5.15 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I should like to respond to the kind comments of both noble Lords. On the importance of the legislation, it is unlikely, as has often been said in our debates, that other marine legislation will be coming to your Lordships’ House for many a year once this Bill is enacted. It was therefore vital to achieve a consensual approach so that there was confidence in the shape of the legislation. I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords who helped that to happen.

The Bill team has been magnificent; I very much echo the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Taylor. As for the six-month leave of absence, I doubt whether that is enough to write a treatise on devolution and the marine environment, although I suspect that there is a PhD in there for someone. Finally, I have had my noble friend Lord Davies beside me. It is the first time that I have worked with him on a Bill in detail. He has been a magnificent support. He does extraordinary service to the House and it is a real pleasure to have worked with him.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Criminal Justice: Sonnex Case


5.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the case of Dano Sonnex.

Last Thursday, Sonnex was convicted with Nigel Farmer of the brutal and sadistic murder 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.

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I know I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies to the families of the two young victims of this appalling crime. I have twice met the families 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, police and probation. Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk, or considered for multiagency public protection arrangements, 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 this incident merited nothing more than a formal warning. This was clearly a further error. The seriousness of the allegation warranted a revised risk assessment and referral to a multiagency public protection panel. This did not take place.

In the event, Sonnex did comply with his licence requirements until 23 April, 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 light of the alleged offence. However, at a 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. But exactly what transpired is still not clear. What is clear is that Sonnex should not have been released onto 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 that should have altered Sonnex’s risk assessment. The recall was not submitted for approval to the NOMS Public Protection Unit until 12 June, which turned it around promptly and issued the recall revocation notice to the police the next day. The probation service labelled the recall as ‘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. This

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was a wholly unacceptable delay, and, tragically, too late for Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, as it was the same day that 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 these young men when he could and should have been locked up. This was not a question of poor resources, but of poor judgments and poor management within London Probation, as well as errors by the Metropolitan Police and the Prison Service. As Secretary of State responsible for the probation and prison services, I take responsibility for their failings, and the Metropolitan Police take responsibility for theirs. On behalf of each agency, I have apologised to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, and I do so again today.

Let me now set out the action that has been undertaken since these failures came to light in July last year. After the murders, London Probation held an immediate ‘serious further offence’ review into the case. This was completed in October 2008. In light of its findings, a more detailed NOMS investigation was established. Having considered this report, 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 having 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 the IPCC’s subsequent recommendations, and 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 subjected to the most intensive scrutiny available. 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 to my honourable friend the Prisons and Probation Minister on progress, and my honourable 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

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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 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 they manage offenders presenting a risk of harm, in light of the failings in this case.

All the investigation reports 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 House Library.

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

When serious offenders are released into the community having completed their sentence, 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 standards have improved. The safety of the public and the memory of the two young men whose lives were so brutally taken demand no less”.

I commend this Statement to the House. That completes the Statement.

5.28 pm

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I join him in expressing—as I think everyone in the House would want to—our deepest sympathy to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. All of us were deeply shocked at the horrendous murder of those two young students by Dano Sonnex and Nigel Farmer. I think all of us agree—as the Minister made clear in the Statement—that nothing can excuse or detract from the personal responsibility of the perpetrators of these murders. However, no one can ignore the serious and systematic failures across the entire criminal justice system that led to those tragic deaths, nor this Government’s gross dereliction of their first duty—to protect the public. Having said that, I am grateful that at least we had from the Secretary of State for Justice—as repeated by the Minister—a full acceptance of responsibility.

The independent review into this case found errors of judgment, failures of communication and inadequate staffing levels. I say in passing, that the noble Lord told us that this was not a matter of resources and boasted, as always, of an increase in resources, but

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then said that there was underspend in London. I shall ask later whether that was a case of underspend in advance of further cuts in his department’s budget. It also found wrong assessments and a whole series of systematic failures. Does the noble Lord accept that, faced with failings so wide and deep, it is inappropriate to single out one official for blame? Does he recognise the succession of breaches for which Ministers have, in the end, to bear the primary responsibility as a failure of government?

The noble Lord gave some account of the career of Dano Sonnex, a dangerous criminal who slipped through every part of the system. His risk rating was mysteriously downgraded from high to medium. The probation officer in charge was overworked and overwhelmed. Even at this stage, tragedy was avoidable. Sonnex then—as the noble Lord told us—tied up a relative and her partner, held a knife to her throat and threatened them with a hammer. Fortunately, they managed to escape. Can the noble Lord explain just how, after that, Sonnex only received a verbal warning? He was then arrested for handling stolen goods. Obviously, these are only the crimes that we know about; there may be more. He was inexplicably bailed. We understand that prosecution counsel did not oppose this because Sonnex was not expected to get bail. Recall proceedings were initiated by the probation service but took over a month just to be processed. As the noble Lord admitted in his Statement, this is wholly unacceptable. By this time it was too late. I will not repeat the horrific trail of events that followed.

These failings span our courts, the probation service and the Prison Service. Does the noble Lord accept that they are the direct result of an overcrowded prison estate, which has led Ministers to put concerted pressure on the courts and probation staff not to use custody, even when, as here, it was vital to protect the public? That is the primary duty of the Government. Does he accept that the failure to deliver on yet another IT system—namely C-NOMIS, which links the courts, prisons and the probation service—left staff ill-equipped to cope? The failure of IT systems is quite a constant complaint against the Government. Would the £40 million or so squandered on C-NOMIS have been better spent on strengthening front-line officer capacity? Does the Minister accept the independent review’s finding that the local probation service was inadequately staffed, diluting the supervision of such a high-risk offender? Does he also accept its finding that the probation service focused on Sonnex’s employment and accommodation needs, when its number one priority, as I said earlier, should have been public protection? This is yet another symptom of the Government’s confused priorities, paralysis and lack of direction.

Now we have the Government’s response, which is merely to engage in further procedural tinkering. That is precisely the approach that the Secretary of State for Justice has adopted today. For example, probation officers will get new guidance and a new template for managing high-risk offenders. Such is the gulf between the challenges facing the probation service and the Government’s capacity to meet them. I come now to the question of increased resources. The noble Lord said that there was an underspend in the London

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region. We understand that there will be some £30 million of fresh cuts to front-line probation services. Can the Minister confirm that? It is the equivalent of losing around 800 probation officers. Back-room bureaucracy bloats that even further.

With the Justice Department issuing directions for probation reports on those released on licence for life to be reduced from every three months to every six months, how can the Justice Secretary give the House and the public the unequivocal assurance that these tragedies will not be repeated? I have put several questions to the noble Lord. No doubt others will be put to him, but I very much hope that, in the course of the afternoon, he will take the trouble to answer mine.

5.34 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement. I concur with the sympathy that he has expressed towards the families of these two young men. In April 2008, Sonnex was arrested and charged with handling stolen goods. He was remanded in custody until 16 May 2008. The probation service told the court that a recall was in process and requested that remand continue. It appears that there was a misunderstanding. The court assistant thought that the recall would commence immediately and that there would be no need to deal with the question of bail, since Sonnex would already be in custody. Bail was not opposed and was technically and actually granted because of that mistake.

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