Victory for Tanis' mum as failings over her son's killer will be discussed in Parliament
Tanis Bhandari's mother has branded Government claims that her son's killer was being properly monitored "a joke" - as failings exposed by The Herald are to be heard in Parliament.
As The Herald revealed last month, killer Donald Pemberton could have been locked up for threatening people with meat cleavers two weeks before the murder if he had been properly supervised. Now the failures to keep tabs on Pemberton are being taken all the way to Parliament - after The Herald helped his grieving family expose a catalogue of errors by the authorities in the lead-up to the murder. And city chiefs are pushing to take the chilling case further, as Tanis' mother hit out at Ministry of Justice claims that Pemberton was supervised "at all times" after his earlier arrest.
The family of the Tamerton Foliot builder, brutally murdered in the early hours of New Year's Eve two years ago, were left reeling after being given access to two internal investigations by the privatised arm of the Probation Service and Devon and Cornwall Police. The reports revealed a catalogue of systemic failures, delays, computer inadequacies and human errors that have left them with more questions than answers.
The police investigation shockingly found "there was a chance" that Donald Pemberton – serving a life sentence for the joint murder of the 27-year-old on New Year's Day – "would not have been at liberty on that night" had key information been available to police and his probation officer after he was arrested for threatening a group of men with two meat cleavers two weeks earlier.
Worse, the police investigator found the circumstances which led to Tanis' death could be repeated, not just in Devon and Cornwall, but in any force area of the country due to omissions in the recording of licence conditions on the Police National Computer. The police's review of the matter concluded there was "every chance incidents similar to this case will recur" if no changes were made to current processes.
The probation report into the actions taken by the Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Probation Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) – run by Working Links – was carried out by staff from the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire CRC – also run by Working Links. Tanis's family were informed they were only allowed to see a summary form of the Serious Further Offence review into decisions and actions taken in relation to the management of Pemberton. The four page report revealed that Pemberton's probation case manager was "newly appointed to the role of case manager". In addition, it revealed there was a delay in getting her onto a training programme for newly appointed case managers.
The police's internal investigation went further and revealed that the probation case manager was not informed of Pemberton's arrest on December 15, 2014 until eight days later, after a member of the Insight Mental Health Team contacted her Plymouth office. The report also found how three weeks earlier the same probation case manager had been told by a Doctor who had seen Pemberton that the 20-year-old was "paranoid and afraid of his father and was now keeping an axe under his bed". She called police to advise action under the Mental Health Act. However, after first calling 101, then 999, then 101 she was told he was "back at home and was no longer a risk".
On December 31, 2016 – and again on January 6, 2017 – The Herald asked the Ministry of Justice for comment on the police's findings, the implications for all police forces, prisons and the PNC Bureau at the Met Police, the "recommendations" put forward by the police and which organisation would take charge of the force's concern. On January 18, a Ministry of Justice spokesman replied: "Public protection is our absolute priority and at all times offenders were supervised according to their licence conditions.
"We have worked closely with the Police to rectify this situation and the Home Office and Ministry of Justice will continue to work together to further improve the process." The spokesman noted how during the period that "details were not being uploaded", prisons continued to manually notify local PNC bureaus and probation services when an offender had been released into their area on licence.
They said: "This issue only related to those offenders dealt with the Offender Rehabilitation Act who had been sentenced to less than 12 months. "As part of the MoJ's Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, offenders in prison for less than 12 months are now receiving support from the probation service for the very first time. "Under the provisions, prisons must provide information on offenders due to be released on a licence and on PSS [Post-Sentence Supervision] to local police forces, probation services and the centralised PNC bureau, run by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)."
In response, Andrea Sharpe, Tanis' mother, said: "They've got to be kidding. It's just a joke, isn't it? I'm so speechless to see what they've come out with. They've just churned out something they've already said before. I'm not filled with confidence that they are supervising offenders at all times, not at all. It's shoddy and it's scary because I'm surprised something else like this hasn't happened between then and now. Perhaps it has and we're not being told. I'm definitely not satisfied public protection is their priority. They've ignored the police's report completely. They would have to be a lot further to even start me down the road to being confident again."
Plymouth Moor View MP Johnny Mercer said he has met with the family of Tanis Bhandari and would raise their concerns about the probation and police reports at Parliament. He said: "This appears to be an unacceptable failure by police and probation authorities outside of Devon and Cornwall. "Their number one priority is the protection of the public from individuals like Pemberton. We have a brilliant police force in Plymouth; they can only continue to achieve the standard they do if they are supported properly by other police organisations outside Devon and Cornwall. I have met with the family of Tanis Bhandari to provide support and advice in their relations with government departments and agencies. I will continue to work with them in order to help deliver the answers they deserve. I will be raising this in Parliament at the earliest opportunity."
Councillor Philippa Davey, Labour councillor for the Stoke ward has recently lodged a motion at Plymouth City Council regarding concerns over the privatisation of the Probation Service and the findings of the Serious Further Offence review and the police's internal report.
The motion – entitled Protecting the Public – goes on to note deep concerns about the Ministry of Justice's lack of action and other agencies "to rectify a national issue regarding licences which is likely to lead to further offences being committed, which could be prevented". The motion hopes to see the Conservative/UKIP led council to urge local MPS and the Police and Crime Commissioner to lobby the government over these concerns.
Speaking to The Herald, she said: "Having managed high risk of harm offender services I was shocked to read Carl Eve's damning report on the sequence of events that led to Tanis Bhandari's brutal murder – events that I believe could, and should, have been avoided. "At numerous points, Donald Pemberton should have been identified as a high risk of harm to both the public and himself. What is even more concerning is that failure in the notification of licence conditions, lack of communication between key services and poor or non existent risk assessment will lead to further offences being committed. The fact that the 'dip sample' of PNC records showed a third had no record of their licence conditions on the system is a huge hole in the system."
"To read this is the same across all forces, is frankly terrifying. The whole criminal justice system is creaking at the seams, our MP's have ignored councillors concerns regarding probation, lack of funding for essential services and privatisation and it is the public who pay the ultimate price. Nothing will bring back Tanis, but we must do all we can to ensure his death is not in vain, that his family receive the answers they seek and deserve and that we work to ensure these failures do not happen again. Some very simple measures could be taken to reduce the risks and I will be doing all I can to ensure this happens."
Andrea said she has been heartened by the response to a petition she launched just a few weeks ago urging the Home Secretary to release the full Serious Further Offence review. The 5,000 target was smashed and the number of people backing the family's plea continues to rise. She said: "We're overjoyed and overwhelmed by the support we have received and we've been urged to keep it open to increase the pressure."
"The next step is to write to the Secretary of State for Justice Liz Truss MP and make her aware of the petition and what we want and then, hopefully, Johnny Mercer will be able to arrange a meeting with Sam Gyimah [Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice] to present the petition. We have also made a Freedom of Information request to Liz Truss for the full Serious Further Offence report, but we've heard nothing back from her yet. We've also made a formal complaint to the police regarding why officers did not look at Pemberton's PNC report properly after his arrest on December 15 for the affray. Devon and Cornwall Police have said they have now referred our complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission."