The painful lessons learned following this case included recognition that high caseloads can contribute to mistakes being made, and as a consequence it lead directly to the Workload Management Tool being developed. This is from the Guardian dated 4th June 2009:-
The disclosure that Dano Sonnex was out on a parole licence after serving an eight-year sentence for violence and robbery at the time he committed the murders is a devastating blow to the London Probation Service.
It comes just three years after an official inquiry report into the murder of the Chelsea financier, John Monckton, found that there had been a "collective failure" and numerous blunders by probation and parole staff.
The internal Probation Service reviews into the Sonnex case led to the resignation of David Scott, the chief probation officer for London, at the end of February, after allegedly being told by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, that he did not want a repeat of the Haringey social services fiascos.
The official inquiry reports released today [after the verdicts] provide a damning catalogue of serious errors and management failings by the London Probation Service. They confirm that Lewisham probation – the office at the centre of the case – was severely unstaffed, with the supervision of Sonnex left to an inexperienced probation officer with a caseload of 127 other offenders.
At the time of Sonnex's release, Lewisham probation office appears to have been in meltdown. The officer who was supervising him had a caseload of 127 offenders and had only been qualified for nine months, although she was an experienced probation assistant. She was seeing 12 to 15 people a day. Her senior probation officer was "acting up".
She was just one of 22 probation officers in Lewisham, only one of whom had more than two years experience. According to Napo, the probation union, it appears to have been management by crisis in Lewisham, with high sickness levels averaging 27 days a year and with no proper risk assessments on 650 of the 2,500 offenders they were responsible for. "This was an office under pressure with a very high caseload," says the official verdict.
Because Sonnex arrived for his probation appointments on time or even early, and was polite, co-operative and smartly dressed, he may not have seemed a priority case.
Details of the key failings in the case include:
• Prison doctor's report that Sonnex was a potential killer was not shared: In May 2004, a doctor at Portland young offenders' institution reported that Sonnex had said he "feared that his reaction to events meant he could kill". But this was not shared with prison staff.
• Confusion over his dangerousness: Sonnex was deemed a tier three or medium-risk offender when he should have been tier four or high-risk offender. There was confusion over this, with Sonnex listed high-risk on one probation and prison database, but medium on another. The prison service saw him as a drug-free, much-improved inmate, but the probation union claims that there was pressure to "tier-down" offenders. A key multi-agency meeting with probation, prison and police staff which would have clarified his statement was scheduled but never took place because staff could not print out the documents they needed for it.
• No recall after an attack on a five-months' pregnant woman and her boyfriend two days after his release in February: The police did not charge Sonnex because the two victims feared repercussions and despite repeated police visits were not willing to make witness statements. The probation office heard about the incident from social services and from Sonnex as an unsubstantiated allegation. Sonnex claimed he had left the flat when an argument started. He was given only a verbal warning.
• It took 33 days, instead of five, to issue the warrant to recall Sonnex to prison: His probation officer started the process when he was charged with handling stolen goods and remanded in custody on 3 May but there was a delay in signing off the papers as managers sought more detail on the seriousness of the charges. Lewisham was already the "top recaller" in London at time at time of prison overcrowding crisis.
There was also confusion between Greenwich magistrates court and Lewisham probation office which resulted in Sonnex being granted bail despite the recall application. Court officials appear to have assumed he was already on remand on another charge, and granted him technical bail. The effect was that the licence was not revoked until 16 days before the murders. He disappeared as soon as he was bailed on 16 May.
• Police failed to act on the recall warrant for 16 days until after the murders had happened: The Independent Police Complaints Commission say "grave errors" were made by the police who failed to deal with it as a matter of urgency. At one point the arrest was delayed as police debated whether a firearms team should be sent to arrest him. Emergency recalls are supposed to happen within 24 hours. One police sergeant has received a disciplinary warning as a result.Postscript - I'm grateful to Mike Guilfoyle for reminding me of this piece from that other great newspaper the News Shopper dated 17th May 2013:-
Mike Guilfoyle from probation union NAPO said: "As a result of this change will Londoners feel safer or not? The weight of evidence from those who do the job is no. We believe the safety of the public will be compromised. "The potential for another Sonnex, we believe, is likely to increase."
He pointed out that the change could lead to a lack of transparency, with information about performance difficult to obtain. Mr Guilfoyle said: "A whole raft of people who probation had a public accountability for now will be farmed out to any number of organisations."
Probation officer Peter Halsall from Lewisham, also a NAPO member, said: "There's been a huge improvement since Sonnex. Why are you then taking it apart? "Do you want to entrust the safety of the population to a company like G4S which can't actually organise security for the Olympics?"
He warned that dealing with offenders meant monitoring their risk, and that would be harder with different categories of risk allocated to different providers. He said: "The more organisations there are, the easier it becomes for somebody to get missed. "The transfer process is just going to lead to a huge raft of bureaucracy. When you get that then you're putting people at risk."