According to media reports, Wheatley received 13 life sentences at the Old Bailey in 2002 in respect of a string of armed robberies on building societies, having been previously released on parole having served 8 years of a 27 year sentence for similar offences.
There's been a chorus of mostly odious MP's such as Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, who should know better, and Tory Philip Davies expressing surprise that 'someone so dangerous' was in open conditions and permitted day release in the first place. Some have been saying lifers shouldn't be in open conditions at all, thus completely ignoring the fact that it's an essential part of assessment and reintegration back into society for the many hundreds we have on indeterminate sentences in this country.
Apparently Wheatley was some 4 years over his 8 year tariff and clearly felt suitable for Cat D and open prison by the Parole Board. Of course with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, his absconding and subsequent arrest in connection with a further armed robbery raises a number of questions regarding risk assessments. But such assessment is not and can never be a science, whatever politicians may feel or been told about the shite OASys offender assessment process. And there's this to consider, as raised by a reader:-
At the parole hearing which recommended his move to open conditions, what did the Minister of State's representative advise? Which minister approved the Parole Board's recommendation to progress to open conditions?
Now we know the Minister of State's representative hardly ever shows up at Parole Hearings and if they do they are usually a prison officer who either has nothing to say, or says there's not been enough time to come to a considered view. When it comes to Grayling trying to pin the blame somewhere, people must understand that with indeterminate sentences there is a chain of responsibility involved in making decisions over sentence progression and release.
Being four years over tariff Wheatley may have felt that his chances of being released were not that good and therefore decided to do a runner. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people serving life will eventually be released at some point and the Parole Board have already been accused of being far too 'risk-averse' mainly because Probation Officers have become increasingly so.
As a nation we have far more people serving indeterminate sentences than virtually any other and all the signs are that this case will provide the perfect pre election excuse to indulge in the now very familiar game of which party is tougher on crime. The public and politicians must face up to the fact though that sometimes people will reoffend despite our best efforts and reoffend seriously because we're dealing with some of the most dangerous people in society.
Already it's being suggested that ROTL or Release on Temporary Licence will be tightened up even further with prisoners being required to wear an electronic tag. This is utter nonsense of course because a guy like Wheatley, determined to do a runner as he clearly was, would simply have cut the device off before stepping on the train to London. As reported by the BBC:-
Prisons minister Jeremy Wright said the system had been too lax and was being changed. "In future when prisoners are let out on temporary licence they will be tagged, more strictly risk assessed and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released," he said. "There will be a full review of this case, which will look at the ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence) process."As has been said many times before, 'a hard case makes bad law'.