The latest from Carl Eve of the Plymouth Herald:-
Breakthrough in Tanis mum's fight for justice following Westminster summit
The mother of Tanis Bhandari has claimed a breakthrough in her quest for justice following a summit with the Justice Minister. Andrea Sharpe took her fight to the House of Commons on Monday after Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer raised concerns over the case – initially highlighted by a series of articles in The Herald.
And as a result the Justice Minister will examine two reports into the death of Tanis Bhandari by the police and probation service. The report's findings – published in The Herald on the second anniversary of the Tamerton Foliot builder's death – highlighted a catalogue of systemic and human failures which led to one of Tanis' killers being granted bail, despite being caught threatening people in the street with meat cleavers two weeks before the murder.
Andrea said that during her meeting with Liz Truss, the Justice Minister said she would ask Michael Spurr, the CEO of the National Offender Management Service, to carry out a personal report on the Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company (DDC CRC).
The CRC oversaw Donald Pemberton's supervision after he was released from a Youth Offending Institution. He was later jailed for life alongside his co-accused Ryan Williams for the murder of Tanis, causing grievous bodily harm to three other men and actual bodily harm to another man.
Working Links, which runs the DDC CRC, controversially won the government's contract to manage low and medium risk offenders while the remaining Probation Service monitored high risk offenders. Andrea said at the meeting Mr Mercer crystallised the issues raised from the reports and the concerns of Tanis's family.
Andrea said: "Liz Truss said she would ensure Michael Spurr carried out a review. I got the impression it would be top to bottom." With the assistance of Mr Mercer, who detailed the battle Tanis' family have had to find out key information about the monitoring of Pemberton, Andrea explained how she had still to see the full Serious Further Offence report on decisions and actions taken by staff at Plymouth's DDC CRC office.
She said: "She seemed really shocked that it wasn't common practice to pass on this information. Johnny took over for me because I think I just ran out of steam at one point and it was a very long day. He went over the case for Liz Truss. I told her what it was like for the family, having to fight for the truth all the time, how the government had even lost my Freedom of Information request to get the full report. She got straight on to that and sent someone out straight away to find out what had happened. I came out on a high really [from the meeting]. Hopefully, I feel that somebody is listening to me."
The Freedom of Information request mirrored that submitted by Nadine Marshall, from South Wales, who Andrea recently met to compare their similarly tragic experiences. Her son Conner Marshall was battered to death in March 2014 by David Braddon. At the time Braddon was being monitored by another CRC run by Working Links after he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and drug offences.
Her own battle with the authorities, which included campaigns by the local MP, a petition and Freedom of Information request eventually saw them handed the full Serious Further Offence report which revealed that Braddon's supervision was unworkable and he should have been sent back to court.
The two mothers now remain in constant communication, exchanging support and advice, in an effort to see an improvement in the system which failed their sons. Andrea said Nadine texted her on Monday as she travelled to London, alerting her to yet another case where a young man had been murdered by a person under probation supervision.
The recent conviction of Rhys Barnes, from Newport, who admitted the murder of 36-year-old Rhys Jones, who died of his injuries last November, has again given weight to the call by victim's families for more transparency.
Rhys Jones was killed five days after Barnes had been released from prison. At the time of the murder Barnes was being supervised by the National Probation Service after his release from prison, having been assessed as a high risk to his family and a medium risk to the public. He had been readmitted to prison at the beginning of November for breaching supervision conditions, but five days after coming out, he murdered Rhys Jones following a row about a girlfriend.
A report by the BBC on Monday morning saw David Hanson, Labour MP for Delyn and a member of the justice select committee in Westminster, say it was important families and the public knew what went wrong in cases such as these. He said: "That means that the report has to be published for the victim, but also for those like myself who take an interest to make sure the system is working well."
Following her meeting with the Justice Minister Andrea said: "I got the feeling that there would now be a whole new investigation – at least I hope that's how I understood it. Johnny Mercer has been asked to speak with the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) about the bailing of Pemberton. Liz Truss seemed quite shocked that the police decided to give him bail on that night. She's also asked to see fresh copies of both the internal police investigation [into the circumstances surrounding Tanis' death] and the DDC CRC report into the decisions made. She wants to read them both."
Andrea was joined by her daughter Brooklyn in the public gallery of the Commons as Johnny Mercer paid tribute to her efforts and noted the government's assurance that it had taken steps to prevent errors in the recording of licence conditions on the Police National Computer. He went on to ask if the Justice Department would: "work with families to ensure that they get the support they need so that cases like that of Tanis Bhandari cannot happen again?"
Brandon Lewis, Minster for Policing and the Fire Service said the "process around post-sentence supervision has changed following the implementation of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014" but added that he was "always willing, as, I know, are colleagues at the Ministry of Justice – I think my hon. Friend has arranged for the family to meet the Secretary of State for Justice later today – to look at what more we can learn from the experiences of today and the past.
Andrea told The Herald Mr Mercer had suggested a further meeting, involving Michael Spurr of NOMS, to which she would be invited to attend.