Sunday 31 March 2019

Where Is The Evidence?

I notice Penelope Gibbs continues to be concerned about 'remote' supervision. This from LinkedIn:-  

Playing with fire – the risks of evidence free probation practice

The Chief Inspector of Probation this week expressed clearly what everyone involved thinks – that the model of privatised probation does not and cannot work. This model was never piloted or tested in any way. Equally many of the new practices CRCs (privatised probation companies) have adopted have never been tested either. 

The Chief Inspector has always been critical of the use of “remote” supervision – supervising and keeping in contact with clients by telephone rather than face to face. “A relationship needs to be formed, but up to 40% of individuals under supervision in some CRCs have been supervised by telephone only, usually following an initial meeting and assessment”. (I think the Chief Inspector is implying that some clients are never at any point seen face to face by their probation worker). In some CRCs the majority of the workers have no probation qualifications.

With, but particularly without, qualifications, probation supervision is difficult to do well. More than one academic study has pointed to “trust and strong communication” as pivotal to the worker-client relationship. It makes sense that replacing face to face meetings with telephone contact may affect trust and strong communication. But we do not know what the effects are because there is no reliable research: “there is no evidence to suggest that supervision by telephone alone is effective”. The only extensive research on the success of online/telephone consultations has been in health settings where some studies on some conditions suggest some successful outcomes. But criminal justice is very different to health, particularly because probation consultations are compulsory. So we don’t know what we don’t know.

At least the Probation Inspectorate has established that there is no good research on telephone probation supervision. There has been no review of international research in relation to other interactions which the probation service has been forced to do online. Now many “meetings” for pre-sentence reports, risk assessments of those in prison and parole hearings are done on video rather than face to face. But there is no research that I know of on the impact of having these interactions on video.

Probation practice has been profoundly changed by the impetus to communicate with clients on the telephone/on video. My understanding is that probation practitioners would always prefer to talk to clients face to face but that pressure of workloads and the demands of court reform stop them doing so.

We are playing with fire. If we don’t know what effect telephone and video interactions have on the probation-client relationship, should we be allowing these to become the default?

Penelope Gibbs 
Director of Transform Justice 
Visiting Fellow, Kellogg College, University of Oxford

Saturday 30 March 2019

Another Pesky Million!

Well, another milestone rapidly approaches with the blog due to sail past the six millionth 'hit' some time today. It's taken us 15 months to clock up this million, whereas the last only took just over 12, a fact that neatly confirms what this graph and my instinct tells me, namely that interest is steadily waning, but has picked up a bit since TR2 came over the horizon. What is still quite evident is that every time probation hits the news, this blog becomes the go-to-place:- 

Graph of Blogger page views

But to be honest, I'm really not sure where things go from here. Some time ago the blog became dedicated to a fight for the soul and survival of something that I feel was worthwhile, honourable and just plain 'right'. It's been a big part of my life ever since I first set foot in a probation office and felt immediately 'at home'. It seems to me we've won all the arguments; garnered all the evidence; recruited all the malcontents; identified the humbug; called-out the hypocrisy and recorded the time-line, but despite all our efforts, are we really any nearer to recovering much of our profession?

Despite recent confirmation that TR is officially dead, many of us remain to be convinced that TR2 can be prevented, but even if it is, do we really want to become re-united under Civil Service command and control? I think not.

"End of an era....NPS saying fond farewell to Michael Spurr, who has spent his career promoting the best of prison and probation. Thank you Michael."  Kilvinder Twitter 29/03/19
Understandably, many good people can only have so much energy for fighting and the inherent negativity can be draining and not at all healthy for anyone in the long term, myself included. Not surprisingly many people have 'moved on', a fact that is not lost on those in government, MoJ or the privateers and other 'chancers' determined to never admit that TR was a total fucking disaster and simply carry on regardless. I sense the inevitability of a steady decline for the blog. I've already written regarding a noticeable drop-off in the quality and quantity of contributions, a situation unlikely to improve I suspect. 

As many are aware, other social media platforms are available, which is just as well given that the heavily-moderated Napo members 'Forum' died a death some time ago, either through deliberate act or simple carelessness. Facebook has become the new platform of choice for many, especially the notoriously 'secret' group with an impressive 2,200 members, including some contributing Napo staff. 

Despite the description and as is often highlighted, this group cannot be regarded as 'secret' and it must be assumed employers and others read it. Despite this, many people are signed-in under real identities and the discussion is often informative, thought-provoking and lively, just such a shame that it is neither public nor secret, but sort of 'semi private'. A bit like Freemasonry, it must irritate some potential members if they fail to find a way of gaining access. Just as there are potential issues posting on such a site, there are also pros and cons with anonymous contributing, as on the blog. 'You pays your money and takes your choice' as they say.   

Starting this blog was the easiest thing in the world. Although inordinately time-consuming and on occasions stressful, it's also been a great privilege and mostly enormous fun, but I know full well that deciding how it ends and when is going to be one of the hardest decisions I will ever have to make, but not just yet some will be relieved to hear. I think there is still a bit more mileage left before I'm willing to give up and concede defeat, but dear reader, to a large extent it depends on you, your continued interest and most important of all, your  contributions! 

Thanks for making the blog what it continues to be - the go-to-place for probation.        

A Dichotomy

Lets start with a question:-
"Re SYCRC inspection report. It is confusing, commented here before, how leadership is rated outstanding and yet every aspect of case supervision is rated as inadequate or requiring improvement. Can someone explain why this keeps being the case in inspection reports? It does not seem to add up, what am I missing?"
From the inspection report:-

"The CRC has found it difficult to recruit and train qualified staff and has made the decision to deliver the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) in-house, and now has 11 staff progressing through the programme."

"A minority of operational staff (16.7 full-time equivalent) are qualified probation officers. The majority of responsible officers are probation service officers, many are new to this role and some have progressed from support roles. The CRC has put in place extensive development programmes, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Emphasis has been put on performance management and quality assurance, with a dedicated team of operational assurance staff taking a leading role in supporting the quality of practice through a variety of assurance and development processes. Data from the cases examined suggests that these processes have not had the full impact intended, as the CRC has yet to audit cases against the HMI Probation standards for the quality of supervision."

"Dynamic senior leadership has driven forward change at a fast pace, supported by an effective performance management system. The organisation has made great progress in improving performance and is now meeting or exceeding all key contractual performance targets."

"Most operational staff are unqualified and require more extensive training in assessing and managing risk of harm to others." 

"Most staff have seen at least one change of manager in the past year, for a variety of reasons. Greater stability is required to make staff supervision and development more consistent and effective."

"There are too many instances where individuals under supervision experience frequent changes of supervisor, which adversely affects their engagement with services and the consistency of service delivery."

"The assessment of risk of harm to others is not good enough, and deficiencies in identifying relevant information on file, or which can be obtained from other statutory partners, result in inadequate planning and provision of interventions to keep others safe."

"Skills in analysing factors linked to offending and the effective management of risk of harm to others are not well enough understood by all practitioners."

Here's yesterday's press release:-

South Yorkshire CRC - Beginning to address problems arising from shortage of qualified probation officers

South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) was found by inspectors to have weak case supervision, with some inadequate aspects and a lack of qualified probation staff.

However, though the inspection in November and December rated the Sodexo-owned CRC as ‘Requires Improvement’ inspectors also found an outstanding leadership team which was driving improvements.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said: “The CRC is making significant changes to its operating model. Individuals will no longer be subject to telephone-only supervision, and leaders have taken swift action – following our findings in Sodexo’s Northumbria CRC – to improve the important work of assessing each individual subject to probation supervision.”

The rate and frequency of reoffending by people under supervision in the CRC area was found to be comparatively high. In response, Dame Glenys said, “senior leaders are working with partner agencies on a laudable initiative to prioritise resources to those who are most frequently arrested.”

The CRC, she added, “must be sure to take the right steps in these and other cases.” More accredited programmes were needed, along with interventions to improve individuals’ accommodation and employment prospects.

Inspectors identified inexperienced staff as a problem in case supervision work. The number of qualified probation officers had fallen considerably since Sodexo took ownership of the CRC in 2015.

Dame Glenys said: “Alarmingly, although individual workloads are not generally excessive, the large majority of probation staff here are not qualified, and many are not sufficiently experienced at managing risk of harm to others.

“The CRC is training staff to achieve the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP), and putting substantial effort into quality management but, at present, the skills gaps are reflected in the poor quality of assessment and planning work with individuals.”

The report noted that weak assessments, leading to poor planning, “often resulted in insufficient attention being given to the likelihood of individuals posing a risk of harm to others. This was made worse when information from domestic violence units or children’s social care services had not been obtained, or when contact levels had been too low to monitor individuals effectively.”

However, Dame Glenys added that more recent assessments had shown improvement. Inspectors found the CRC had recently introduced a more comprehensive assessment model.

Overall, Dame Glenys said:

“Unpaid work delivery in this CRC is good, but urgent improvements are needed to the rest of its work, and in probation supervision overall. There have been too many changes of practitioners for individuals under supervision, and those practitioners have also experienced changes in line managers. That needs to stop now, so far as possible, and leaders must concentrate on improving the skills base, and with it the quality of work delivered.”

Friday 29 March 2019

Prison - More or Less?

Now that TR has been officially pronounced dead and a plan B is emerging as an alternative to TR2, this piece by Richard Garside sheds some light on what's happening on the prison front.

Ending the prisons whack-a-mole

The UK government’s decision, earlier this year, to scrap plans to build a new prison at Port Talbot, south Wales, was an important victory in the battle against prison expansion. “Welsh communities are still quite reluctant to build new prisons”, Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, told the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee in January. On future prison builds, he added:

We do not want to repeat the experience of Port Talbot where we decided to go somewhere and suddenly found there was a strong community objection to it.
The local MP, Stephen Kinnock, was “very strongly opposed” to building the prison, Stewart acknowledged. The Assembly Member, David Rees, was among a number of local politicians who likewise opposed the plans. Speaking in a debate in Parliament in September 2017, the Plaid Cymru home affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, had said: “Port Talbot has been through some tough times of late, but the answer is unequivocally not to turn Wales’ industrial powerhouse into a penal colony on an industrial scale”.

Having previously supported the plans, the Welsh Government changed its mind. “I do not believe it is in the interests either of the Welsh Government or people in Wales, to see further prison development in Wales”, the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies, announced in April 2018.

The combination of local campaign, and opposition by elected politicians, was probably decisive. Without the local campaign against the prison, the elected politicians in Wales could well have swung the other way. The local campaign would also probably not have succeeded without political support.

Despite this success, the underlying dynamic continues to favour prison growth. Ministers speak vaguely of reducing the prison population, while pursuing policies that in the here-and-now fuel further growth. None of the main political parties question the resort to imprisonment, nor show any serious interest in reversing the growth of recent decades. Indeed, they appear content to see further expansion.

The proposed prison in Port Talbot was but part of bigger plan — announced in the 2016 White Paper, Prison Safety and Reform — to build 10,000 new prison places at an estimated cost of £1.3 billion. A new prison in Yorkshire was announced by the then Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, in March 2017, along with the redevelopment of several other prison sites.

While local activism and electoral politics combined in south Wales to scupper the government’s plans, this will not necessarily be the case elsewhere. Speaking of other potential prison sites, Rory Stewart told the Welsh Affairs Committee that “we are looking for communities that see the point of it, want to engage with us and would welcome our investment”. Those communities badly hit by recession and austerity would make for the obvious recipients of such apparent largesse. The potential for local coalitions of community activists, politicians and business in favour of new prisons should not be discounted.

Until we can change the national policy agenda from prison expansion to prison closure, campaigns against new prisons face being caught up in an endless game of prisons whack-a-mole. As one new prison is stopped — in this case Port Talbot — others pop up: Glen Parva and Wellingborough, for instance. As anyone who has played that game knows, there is only ever one winner: the moles. Winning the game means stopping the game: replacing the incessant movement towards prison growth with an unceasing drive towards prison closure.

While the government plans for prison growth, there are tantalising signs of a potential consensus on the need for the system to shrink. The current Justice Secretary for England and Wales, David Gauke, recently stated that prison “doesn’t work, and indeed, makes us less safe”. Last year, he told The Times that he “would like [the prison population]… to fall”.

In 2016, the former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, told the BBC that 30 per cent of those currently in prison in England and Wales — some 25,000 people — did not need to be there and should be released. The Conservative chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, Bob Neill, said that “ we should be looking to start reducing the prison population straight away”.

A jointly-authored letter, published in The Times in December 2016, called for the government to pursue policies to reduce the prison population “to the levels it was under Margaret Thatcher. That would mean eventually reducing prison numbers to about 45,000”. The three signatories had previously served in government as deputy prime minister (Nick Clegg), justice secretary and home secretary (Ken Clarke), and home secretary (Jacqui Smith).

These interventions point to the potential for a broad-based consensus on the need to close prisons. But it is a potential consensus only, lacking in the concrete capacity to act; to pursue the changes needed to make the consensus a reality. This political inertia, this stuckness, was well expressed by Rory Stewart last year, during an appearance before the House of Commons Justice Committee.

“We can do one of two things: we either… gamble everything on being able to reduce the prison population; or we can do what I would be tempted to do, which is to say that I do not feel, I am afraid, even though ideally the prison population will go down, that that is very likely to happen, because I am not sure that there is the will among the public or Parliament to take the kind of measures to reduce that population.”
With the desirable policy of shrinking the system seemingly unattainable, ministers and civil servants pursue the seemingly attainable, but undesirable, policy of prison growth. Unsurprisingly, this feeds a pessimism about the political process, and the capacity for it to deliver meaningful change.

One response to the apparent incapacity of formal politics to deliver meaningful change has been the development of new activist groups pressing explicitly prison abolitionist demands. These include the Empty Cages Collective, Community Action on Prison Expansion (which emerged out of the Empty Cages Collective), and the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee. These groups are, to quote from David Scott’s recent book, Against Imprisonment, “generally very small in number and most members are known to each other prior to the formation of the specific abolitionist organisations”.

Eschewing any meaningful engagement with mainstream political debates, these groups have focused on local activism and direct action. On International Women’s Day earlier this month, for instance, they mounted a protest at the Ministry of Justice, alongside other groups including Bent Bars, Sister not Cis-ter, Sisters Uncut, and Women’s Strike Assembly.

The abolition of women’s prisons was, however, only incidental to the main purpose of the protest. Working under the banner of the ‘Trans Liberation Assembly’, their main demand was for trans women prisoners — those male-born prisoners who identify as women — to be held in women’s prisons.

A number of these same groups also played an active role in shutting down a planned conference on prison abolition, because one of the conference organisers was deemed not to hold the ‘correct’ line on the nature of transgender identities.

The obvious irony of supposedly abolitionist organisations seeking to shut down a conference on prison abolitionism is a symptom of a wider problem. If allegiance to a particular, and highly contested, stance in relation to identity politics forms the basis for entry to the prison abolitionist fold, the movement is likely to remain small, insignificant, riven by dogmatism.

Prison abolitionist activism, at least as practised by such groups, therefore faces the opposite problem to that faced by mainstream politics. In the case of mainstream politics, the potential for a broad-based consensus to close prisons is hampered by a political inertia, an inability to act on that potential consensus. In the case of abolitionist activism, the undoubted willingness to act is hampered by the enforcement of group-think far too narrow and intolerant to enable a broad-based abolitionist movement for change to emerge.

If we are to end the prisons whack-a-mole, the potential, broad-based consensus for shrinking, rather than expanding the system, needs to be combined with the capacity to act decisively to deliver on this consensus. This will require stamina and staying power, rather than speed and drama: what the authors of A Presumption Against Imprisonment describe as an “inevitably slow and arduous process of changing public and political thinking about the use of imprisonment”.

Delivering on this potential will require a combination of the parliamentary and the extra-parliamentary: work through the formal political channels, connected with on-the-ground collaborative activity and mobilisation, grounded in inclusive values.

Richard Garside
Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

Thursday 28 March 2019

At Last the Makings of a Plan B?

With the NAO and HMI having put the last nails in the TR coffin and the MoJ stunned into silence with even their enthusiastic PR team having all-but admitted defeat, it's looking increasingly as if the politicians are desperate to kill off TR2 and urgently find a way out of the mess they have so comprehensively created. 

It can't be any coincidence that the newly-formed 'Probation Alliance' that at long last is beginning to fill the probation leadership vacuum, only yesterday published the early makings of a plan B. The elephant in the room, but seemingly not as yet addressed directly, is how to break free from the current Prison Service stranglehold? 

Probation Alliance 

Initial Position Statement on Principles for a Future Model for Probation

The following have been agreed as initial principles which should inform urgent discussions about a future model for the structure of probation services in England and Wales.

Current Position

  • Management of, and decision making in relation to the current position is creating serious risks to the public, to the confidence of sentencers, to the morale of the profession and to service users. These risks were set out in our original and follow-up letters to the Secretary of State. They have been clearly highlighted by the NAO report.
  • We will continue to press for a pause in the process and the transfer of Community Rehabilitation Companies to the original 21 companies wholly owned by the Secretary of State set up in public ownership in 2014 to facilitate this.
  • We have additional significant concerns about the speedy roll-out of the Offender Management In Custody programme. This is transforming the Probation landscape, creating new “facts on the ground” which may cut off options that could emerge from the current review which affords opportunities for new thinking.
Principles for Future Models
  • The recreation of an independent professional leadership for Probation, for example, the re-establishment of Chief Probation Officer roles.
  • The reunification of Probation.
  • A publically owned service with directly employed staff.
  • Governance of Probation should ensure both national and active local engagement.
  • Dedicated funding must remain the responsibility of central government and where devolved must be ring-fenced.
  • A future model must integrate provision of case management and the delivery of core interventions, like unpaid work and accredited programmes, under public ownership whilst encouraging the provision of rehabilitative service from other providers, particularly the voluntary sector.
  • A future model should ensure that generic services that are fundamental to rehabilitation – health, housing, education, social care - are co-ordinated across central and local government.
  • Evidence of best practice should inform future structures. This should involve looking at jurisdictions beyond England and Wales, including Scotland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the USA. The case for looking more widely is strengthened when the future model of Probation is considered in the light of the Secretary of State’s ambition to abolish the use of short sentences.
  • A future model must ensure that use of technology both as a tool for assisting community supervision and as a recording/case management system must be fully aligned with probation values and best practice and should support rather than supersede or impede face to face engagement.
  • A future model must ensure that Probation practitioners and leaders are appropriately trained. Professional development, qualifications and ethical standards should be overseen by an independent body.
Possible Models
  • We agree that we should continue discussion on further aspects of a future model.
  • There is broad agreement that in any future model, publicly owned and run Probation services should be part of a local joint commissioning structures.
  • The role of Police and Crime Commissioners and particularly Metropolitan Mayors should be recognised but there must be the same operational independence for chief probation officers as there is currently for chief constables and a clear separation between Police and those involved in the delivery of sentences.
  • Future models should address the interface with Youth Justice particularly around transition to adulthood.
Probation Institute
Howard League for Penal Reform
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
Centre for Justice Innovation
BASW Criminal Justice England

It's Both Barrels From Dame Glenys!

In her parting shot before handing over the Chief Inspector's reins, Dame Glenys doesn't mince her words and says it how it is. The press release:-  


The current model for the delivery of probation services in England and Wales is irredeemably flawed, and a major rethink is needed to create a system that is fit for the future, according to the Chief Inspector of Probation.

In her final Annual Report, Dame Glenys Stacey depicts a sector under exceptional strain:

  • both the public-sector National Probation Service (NPS) and privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are failing to meet some of their performance targets. The NPS is performing better overall, whereas eight out of ten CRCs inspected this year received the lowest possible rating – ‘Inadequate’ – for the implementation and delivery of probation supervision. In too many cases, there is not enough purposeful activity.
  • the probation profession has been diminished. There is a national shortage of qualified probation professionals, and too much reliance on unqualified or agency staff.
  • in the day-to-day work of probation professionals, there has been a drift away from practice informed by evidence. The critical relationship between the individual and the probation worker is not sufficiently protected in the current probation model.
Dame Glenys said: 

“More than a quarter of a million people are under probation supervision each year. If probation services are delivered well, there would be less reoffending, fewer people living on the streets, and fewer confused and lonely children, with a smaller number taken into care. Men, women and children currently afraid of assault could lead happier, safer lives. These things matter to us all.

“I have seen first-hand the life-changing potential of probation at its best – but probation is not working as it should. It is not delivering well enough for some of the most troubled and sometimes troublesome people in society, when they and the wider public deserve better.

“Probation must be delivered locally, yet the service is now split at a local level. Despite capable leaders, there has been a deplorable diminution of the probation profession and a widespread move away from practice informed by evidence. This is largely due to the impact of commerce, and contracts that treat probation as a transactional business. Professional ethics can buckle under such pressures, and the evidence we have is that this has happened to some extent.”

Dame Glenys is clear that the intention to terminate CRC contracts early and move to better-funded and better-structured contracts will improve matters, it will not be enough.

Dame Glenys said: 

“Probation is a complex social service, with professional judgement at its heart. The future model for probation services needs to ensure more consistent and effective supervision, to reduce reoffending as far as possible and to keep the public safe.

“Any new probation model must focus on quality. In my view, effective probation work is most likely when good leaders are free to manage, motivate and develop professional staff, who are in turn able to build challenging but supportive relationships with offenders. Specialist and local services are also crucial to help offenders turn their lives around.”

Dame Glenys calls for:

  • probation services to be evidence based. Work to reduce reoffending should draw on research and evidence, and new initiatives should be evaluated and the results added to the evidence base.
  • probation services that meet both the needs of victims and the individuals under supervision. Probation work should be of the right quality, whoever is providing it.
  • an integrated and professional service. The probation service should have enough qualified professionals with access to the right facilities, services and information (and, where necessary, protections) to enable them to do their jobs well.
  • a probation service able to command the confidence of the judiciary, victims, the professional staff employed and the wider public.
Dame Glenys argues that if the service is designed and delivered in line with these principles, and funded sufficiently, then it is most likely to deliver high-quality probation services that make a real difference to individuals under probation supervision and to wider society, and deliver the policy ambitions of any government, over time. The report includes a full evaluation of the probation service using these principles.

Dame Glenys concludes that national, inter-departmental strategies are needed to provide for accommodation and timely benefits payments. Accredited programmes and essential treatment orders should be available locally and ordered whenever appropriate by the court. A good range of rehabilitative community sentence requirements should be available to the court as well, alongside or instead of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements. Intensive inter-agency support should be piloted for the most prolific offenders currently sentenced to short terms of imprisonment.

In her view, a purposeful programme of work is now needed to rebuild the probation profession. Probation professionals should be given the status, recognition and protection of an independent professional body, and she advocates a code of ethics for the profession. In her view, a national workforce strategy is needed, to provide good training and development for all staff and to make sure of the fair distribution of probation professionals across the service.

Dame Glenys argues that national strategies are needed to provide common IT systems with the right functionality, and to make sure that essential and specialist services for those under probation supervision are available when needed locally. She also proposes a rethink about probation premises: only 15 per cent are jointly occupied by the NPS and CRCs. In her view, the existence of two separate estate footprints is both inefficient and ineffective.

Dame Glenys said: 

“These things will be difficult if not impossible, alongside the contractual provision of probation services. Instead, services of the right quality are most likely if probation leaders are able to lead, motivate, engage and develop a sufficient number of probation professionals who in turn can exercise their professional judgement in each case and tailor supervision in each case, with access to a range of specialist services to meet needs in each case. Leaders can then be held fully to account for delivery, for the service’s adherence to the evidence base and for value for money.
“Experience has shown that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to reduce the probation service to a set of contractual measures. I urge the government to consider carefully the future model for probation services, and hope this report will be of help.”


Letter to the Secretary of State

I am pleased to present you with my Annual Report. 

My term as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation comes to an end shortly. It has been a privilege to do the job. I have seen at first hand the life-changing potential of probation at its best, and the lifesapping and sometimes fatal consequences when the service does not work as intended. 

The government’s 2013 Transforming Rehabilitation programme split the service at local level, with the bulk of probation work contracted out to the private sector. It has been a turbulent time. To implement government policy, capable probation leaders were required to deliver change they did not believe in, against the very ethos of the profession. On inspection, we now find probation supervision provided under contract to be substandard, and much of it demonstrably poor. Judicial confidence in community sentencing is now at serious risk. 

Probation is a complex social service, with professional judgement at its heart, but probation contracts treat it largely as a transactional business. Consequently, there has been a deplorable diminution of the probation profession and a widespread move away from good probation practice. This is chiefly due to the impact of commerce. Professional ethics can buckle under such pressures, and the evidence we have is that this has happened to some extent. 

You have taken the bold decision to terminate contracts early, with the intention of re-contracting on better terms, and aligning provider boundaries. While this would help, it would leave serious design flaws unaddressed. 

The probation model delivered by Transforming Rehabilitation is irredeemably flawed. Above all, it has proved well-nigh impossible to reduce probation services to a set of contractual requirements. Professional probation work is so much more than simply a series of transactions, and when treated in that way it is distorted and diminished. 

With contracts now likely to end in December 2020, there is an opportunity to redesign the service. With that in mind, I have proposed design principles for the service, and focused this report on the most relevant matters for consideration, to help with the difficult decisions you must make. 

I would like to thank all those who have participated in any way in our inspections. Without their help and cooperation, it would not be possible to do the job we do. And I am very grateful to you and your officials, for appreciating the validity and real value of the inspection evidence we have been able to provide. 

Dame Glenys Stacey 
Chief Inspector Probation



Some of the changes I advocate in this report could be made without any change to the existing delivery model for probation: presentence reports in more cases; a better range of rehabilitative community sentences; intensive and holistic support and supervision for many individuals currently sentenced to short custodial sentences; the timely provision of accommodation and benefits payments; and much more use (and availability) of mental health and other valuable treatment orders. I have also proposed improvements to the contact scheme for victims, and the independent review of SFO cases. I have argued strongly for a code of ethics and an independent regulatory body for the profession. 

I have proposed that there should be better governance requirements for probation providers. I advocate more sensitive payment arrangements for probation professionals, consistent measures of staff engagement, and that staff should work in safe, secure and suitable premises that are kept in a reasonable state of repair. These things will be more difficult to be sure of in the existing model, but not impossible by any means. 

The government has proposed a next generation of better funded and better structured probation contracts, and the alignment of boundaries between NPS divisions and CRCs. In my view, that will improve matters but it will not be enough. 

The probation profession has been diminished, and the skilled work that professionals can deliver has been devalued. The quality of probation work has suffered and it must now improve, to reduce reoffending, protect the public and restore judicial confidence in community sentencing. Probation leaders are braced to bring about yet more change, as government has indicated, but in my view success is much more likely if probation leaders can bring about change they believe in, and change that respects and values the ethos of the profession. 

Leaders must be able to motivate, engage and develop probation professionals to deliver evidence-based and evidence-led services, rather than probation supervision continuing to drift. Promising new approaches should be evaluated routinely, and the best should be made available nationally. Leaders can then be held fully to account for effective delivery and value for money. 

Probation work that is integrated, professional and delivered as locally as possible is most likely to turn around the lives of offenders. Probation professionals must be able to exercise their professional judgement in each case and tailor supervision, with access to a range of specialist services to meet individual needs. I argue that a national approach is needed now, rather than the continuation of the current divisive arrangements. 

To provide an integrated service, a carefully considered commissioning strategy is needed. Accredited programmes and other valued interventions should be routinely available locally, and accessed readily by all probation professionals, to match need. 

A national workforce strategy is needed, to provide engaging training and development for all staff and to make sure that enough probation professionals of the right grade are available nationally and in all locations. A national IT strategy and common systems are needed, to support the continuous assessment of individuals under probation supervision and the ready transfer of important information. In this way, effective probation supervision is most likely. 

A national estates strategy is needed, to bring about a much more strategic national footprint, with probation services delivered as locally as possible. The operating model should support effective delivery in rural and urban locations, and should always put the relationship between the probation professional and the offender centre stage. 

Experience has shown that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the probation service to a set of contractual requirements and measures, and equally difficult to deliver probation well without a nationwide approach to the essential underpinnings of the service. Significant flaws in the system have become increasingly apparent. 

It will be virtually impossible to deal with these issues if most probation supervision continues to be provided by different organisations, under contract. I urge the government to consider carefully the future model for probation services, and hope that this report will be of help.


In the face of universal opposition, bankrupt CRC owners, negative performance reports, academic criticism, public concern, professional anger, Parliamentary disdain, privatisation failure, press scrutiny and union campaigning, how can the government ignore the pressure and just pretend TR2 will fix things? 

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Why TR2 Will Fail

As we are all aware, despite the TR omnishambles having been widely and comprehensively condemned, the government is seemingly intent on imposing TR2 on us. Despite the constant distraction of Brexit, we must keep the pressure up for a change of direction and in this vein I've obtained permission to reproduce the following from Facebook:-  

Further outsourcing of public services should not be considered unless this can be independently proven to be overwhelmingly in the public interest.

This does not rule out the public sector contracting the private sector to provide services where appropriate for instance in cases where they are the only supplier of a required service and where this cannot be provided economically by the public sector in-house.

We need to dispense with the myth that the private sector drives innovation when public services are outsourced. Because of the way TR was conceived and other factors, that are well known to most of us, the Probation CRC contracts promised innovation is only now being delivered - as referred to in the recent NAO report.

The private sector can indeed bring about efficiencies in certain areas as they aim to bring down costs but this is usually at the expense of a supportive learning culture, quality, and the retention and development of experienced staff as the bedrock upon which to build integrated and strong organisations with appropriate values and beliefs. In a probation context the appropriate values and beliefs at the heart of our professional practice and service should predominantly be about rehabilitation and care rather than punishment/retribution and control. We should perform an important role as a service that provides the essential checks and balances in the system and this should be valued by society rather than dismissed as irrelevant or turned into a political football by government.

Let us not forget that public sector probation isn’t achieving probations traditional aims either so a new unified public sector probation service (free from the execrable taint of the twice failed centralised NPS projects) needs to be established that is one step removed from direct government control and political manipulation and interference. It’s aim should be the care, rehabilitation and resettlement of offenders/service users. There is a clear need for this service to be performed and for the trajectory of the whole criminal justice system to be realigned to produce a more humane system fit for the times we live in now. This is a future probation service worth striving for and one that we could be proud to work for again.

We have seen in probation how some providers have hollowed out services purely to cut costs stripping them of their rehabilitation ethos, their probation identity, value base and quality, and then replacing them with lean process heavy target focused failing organisations that miss the point of probation organisations as a powerful protective forces in communities that bring about positive societal change and contribute to the balance of social good and well being in some of the most deprived and neglected areas that few services serve.

The private sector should not be calling the shots in this new organisation (National Probation Agency) but neither should those who do not believe that the aim of probation is to care for, rehabilitate and resettle offenders/service users and that incarceration and proportionate use of technologies of restraint and control should only be reserved for and applied in the case of the very few people who cannot be safely supervised in the community.

David A Raho


Now this puts me in mind of something I've been meaning to highlight for some time - discussion of how we got here and why it's doomed to fail. A bit lengthy, but well worth reading this extract from a fascinating book on the subject:- 

Kittens are Evil 
Little Heresies in Public Policy


Saying that ‘payment by results’ is fundamentally flawed is like saying kittens are evil. It’s heresy. 

The official consensus around payment by results is that it’s a no-brainer, and if there are problems with it in practice, it’s your fault: you’re not doing it right. Coercive and simplistic thinking informs a whole range of practices aimed at improving public services, so good people try hard to make bad initiatives, based on bad theory, work. Teething troubles, poor governance, bad apples and unintended consequences are cited as reasons for high-profile failures, such as disability assessments, Universal Credit and the Troubled Families initiative. 

This book argues that best efforts and poor excuses aren’t good enough. The authors describe how a bad system beats well-meaning individuals every time. They argue that no amount of tinkering, re-branding or good governance can compensate for the serious and widespread harm inflicted by a fundamentally flawed set of beliefs. George Monbiot succinctly described these beliefs and their consequences in The Guardian (April 2016): 
We respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly? 
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. 

The authors of this book challenge manifestations of neoliberal assumptions in public services – through family intervention, personalisation, numerical targets, marketisation, league tables, economies of scale, inspection and payment by results. 

At the heart of neoliberalism is a belief about people. Individuals are perfectible: anyone can (and should) be successful, to ‘make something of themselves’, if they only try hard enough. If they are unsuccessful, they should be forced to compete harder. (Try watching Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake.) If only we ate less, exercised more, stopped getting older, were more enterprising, ticked the right boxes, remembered our unique customer reference number, were digital by default and frankly were more service-shaped. Wouldn’t that make the government’s job easier? 

A systems view has a very different starting point. This book argues that it is the system itself that is troubled, not families or individuals. As in finance, neoliberal ‘quick wins’ all too often turn into long-term disaster, and it is the same in the public sector that has internalised its thinking. 

The system is where we need to intervene. Attending to systems and their consequences for people is the only sustainable route to better lives and a better society. 

This book isn’t a conscious attempt to design a new system, although in places it makes a start. It does, however, provide strong evidence for public sector professionals, academics and policy makers to see neoliberalism for what it is – not a neutral or inevitable force, but a set of intentional and man-made political beliefs. By seeing it, we can help politicians who believe in something different, to create a new orthodoxy. 

Charlotte Pell, Visiting Fellow, KITE, University of Newcastle Business School 
Simon Caulkin, Writer and editor

2. Public Service Markets Aren’t Working for the Public Good…or as markets

In November 1989, Kenneth Clarke, then Secretary of State for Health, published a White Paper, ‘Working for patients (NHS reforms)’, which proposed to introduce a split between purchasers and providers of care, GP-fundholders and a state-financed internal market, ‘in order to drive service efficiency’ in the National Health Service. Less than a year later, the creation of an ‘internal market’ in Britain’s largest public service had passed into law. A new public policy idea had been born, one that discarded previous economic orthodoxy about the fundamental difference between public and private sectors within a ‘mixed economy’. 

This new ‘public service market’ idea was closely related, in terms of political ideology, to the Conservative government’s parallel policy of privatising former public sector industries and functions, like telecoms and energy supply. Economically speaking, however, the ‘public service market’ idea was distinct from, and far more experimental than, privatisation. While privatisation simply (albeit contentiously) transferred assets and service functions from public to private sector, the ‘internal market’ sought to blur the very distinction between public and private sector economic activity. The government claimed that under their new policy invention (the ‘internal market’) the NHS would remain a public sector service: its assets would remain publicly owned; expenditure would remain taxpayer-funded; and its effective delivery would remain the democratic responsibility of elected politicians. But, they claimed, it would only become better as a public sector service by artificially simulating commercial market dynamics within its own management structures, forcing different teams and specialist units to compete with each other on the basis of their performance, creating ‘customer choice’ for budgetholders within the NHS, heralding the adoption of the managerial behaviours, language and disciplines associated with successful commercial businesses. 

Ten years before the advent of the ‘internal market’ another piece of legislation had also been passed that, while separate in scope and intention at the time, would soon combine with public service market ideas to accelerate the proliferation of ‘service market’ orthodoxy across the public sector. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 had introduced a new duty on councils to enter into Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) for all commercial works and spending they might commission, such as house-building and maintenance or highway repairs. Its stated intention was two-fold: to prevent the much documented phenomenon of ‘cronyism’ and bribery in the awarding of lucrative local business contracts, and to break the ‘closed shop’ controls that Trades Unions were perceived to exercise over the award of contracts only to firms they approved, on worker terms and conditions that met their demands. The CCT leglislation required local authorities to put any intended contract for works and labour out to open bids, including to firms that did not meet union terms, and then required them to have a transparent record of the rationale for their decision on awarding the work, on the basis of which would provide ‘best value’ to the taxpayer. 

At that time, the very idea of local ‘public service markets’ in statutory functions like elderly care or looking after abused children was unheard of. The provision of social care and community support services was itself a longstanding and often very locally idiosyncratic ‘mixed economy’ of public and charitable agencies, which usually had partnership agreements and grant funding arrangements that had evolved over many decades. The original compulsory tendering legislation was not overtly designed to interfere with such local arrangements between councils and charities, however the later spread of ‘public service market’ ideas, along with the evolution of council procurement regimes soon meant that the funding and decision-making about who should provide social care services to the public (and eventually a whole host of other statutory functions and community services) became deeply entangled with councils’ interpretations of their compulsory tendering obligations. 

The proliferation of competitive contracting in public services was not, however, a uniquely British phenomenon. Following the official completion of the ‘single market project’ in 1992, which focused on promoting ‘free trade’ in commercial products across all member states, the attention of the European Union shifted towards the services sector, and the development and implementation of what are now commonly referred to as the ‘EU Directives’. Successive iterations of the EU’s regulations for state procurement legally required open competition in the awarding of contracts (above a threshold amount) by all public bodies, and restricted the ability of governments to provide any financial ‘state aid’ that might give unfair market advantage to any one market competitor over others. For many professionals in the public sector today the EU directives, and their transposition into domestic procurement legislation, have become the most definitive expression of the orthodoxy that all public sector spending decisions are in essence commercial market transactions in which they, as public officials, have a duty to ensure open competition. 

By 2015 the idea that almost all public functions and services are best understood and managed as open competitive markets had become such a politically orthodox view across the political spectrum that it was a consistent underpinning theme within public policy reforms during all three terms of Labour administrations between 1997-2010, and continued seamlessly in the ‘Open Public Services’ reforms of the Tory/ LibDem coalition government of 2010-15, and to this day under the Tory administration elected in May 2015. In practice, the extent of competitive contracting with the state for public service delivery has grown to huge proportions. In December 2014, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee reported that, ‘The private sector delivers complex services on behalf of the public sector, to the value of around £90 billion, which represents half of all public sector expenditure on goods and services.’ The voluntary services sector has also more than doubled its income from contracting with government since 2000, while public sector grant-making to charities and voluntary groups has halved. For the voluntary sector, the inexorable rise of contracting is a tell-tale sign of how far the public service market orthodoxy has spread and changed the nature of their historical partnerships with government.

Beneath the ‘market interface’ of competing for and awarding service contracts on 1-3 year cycles, the day-to-day language, design and delivery of social care practice has become profoundly shaped by commercial sales and business management disciplines – just as the architects of the ‘internal market’ had hoped. Service managers today, if they are to hope to ‘win business’, are encouraged to be able to define their product clearly; to have and to meet targets; to have data that proves their service product really ‘works’ (evidence of outcomes); to have done their market and competitor research; to know their unique selling point and have a perfected ‘market pitch’. Successful services are deemed to be those that deliver a ‘return on investment’ (whether social or in terms of financial savings), which come in at a competitive price and ‘unit cost’. The general modern view of ‘success’ for a service delivery organisation, just as it is in commercial business, is indicated by growth in turnover, which in turn delivers a market advantage through achieving economies of scale. For many public and charitable professionals today, whether working in service delivery or as commissioners and spenders of public funds, the public service market orthodoxy is so deeply embedded into their working environment they may never have experienced, or be able to imagine, a different way of organising and delivering public services. 


Public service markets do not, and cannot behave like open commercial markets. Continued reliance on open competition in the ‘supply’ of public services will lead to market collapse and/or new monopolies. 

Well-established (but recently widely-ignored) classical economic theory already holds the key to understanding why open market competition is an inherently dysfunctional and distorted mechanism for meeting the state’s public service duties. In order to see how, we have to unpick and examine some of the fundamental definitional building blocks in the public service market orthodoxy. 

It takes some time to find any dictionary definition of a market that could possibly encompass public services markets. The Business Dictionary defines it thus: 
Market (n): An actual or nominal place where forces of demand and supply operate, and where buyers and sellers interact (directly or through intermediaries) to trade goods, services or contracts or instruments, for money or barter. 
Markets include mechanisms or means for (1) determining price of the traded item, (2) communicating the price information, (3) facilitating deals and transactions, and (4) effecting distribution. The market for a particular item is made up of existing and potential customers who need it and have the ability and willingness to pay for it.
The Business Dictionary definition of a market, above, could encompass the emergence of public service markets if – and only if – public spending bodies are understood to be the existing and potential customers generating the market’s demand. While this jars with most people’s understanding of who really generates the demand for public services, in fact this designation would be quite true to the original ‘internal market’ idea of designated, budget-holding government employees acting as customers, although common practice since then has been to term such roles as commissioners. In order to follow, as far as possible, this definition of a market, we will refer to the state as the ‘customer’ in public service market orthodoxy. The next task is to determine what kind of market most public services markets are. It is a matter of common agreement that monopolies are ‘bad markets’, and ‘open markets’ are good, for example. But there are several other types of market too. 
“This white paper says loud and clear that it shouldn’t matter if providers are from the state, private or voluntary sector – as long as they offer a great service. The old narrow, closed, state monopoly is dead.” (Cameron 2011)
In most public service markets the state is either the largest single paying customer (e.g. schools and health, where private customers account for around 10% of all demand), or the only customer (e.g. prisons, children’s homes, probation services). The table above shows that wherever the state is the dominant or sole customer (buyer) it means that public service markets are either oligopsonies or monopsonies. Many decades of development in economic market theory and learning have shown that oligopsonies and monopsonies are structurally imperfect markets, in which profound market distortions, such as price-fixing below production costs, are inherently likely, whatever the goods or services being traded. Economists have also found that if left to run their competitive course as if they were ‘free’ or open markets, monopsonies and oligopsonies inherently tend to result in the creation of cartels (oligopolies) and monopolies. 

In other words, a monopsony customer who goes out ‘to market’ in order to purchase the supply of services to meet their needs (instead of meeting it themselves) will eventually end up with only one monopoly supplier left, upon whom they are completely dependent and who can then hold them hostage at over-inflated prices because they have complete command over the capacity to meet the customer’s needs. In some of the longest standing areas of public service contracting there are signs that this is already happening, with a small cartel of ‘too-big-to-fail’ public sector contractors (e.g. G4S, Serco, Capita) evading the kind of corrective market rejection or new competitor challenge that would generally happen in an open commercial market, because the state is already too heavily reliant on their continued operations. ...
as public service markets develop, quasi-monopoly suppliers are emerging who squeeze out competition, often from smaller companies with specific experience. Competition for government business should bring with it a constant pressure to innovate and improve. But for competition to be meaningful, there must be real consequences for contractors who fail to deliver and the realistic prospect that other companies can step in. (Public Accounts Committee, 2014) 
On a purely theoretical basis using market competition to break up ‘old’ state monopolies in the supply of public services will only follow a trajectory that ends inevitably in new monopolies. The alternative, and equally possible, course of events in practice will be that the inexorable (competitive) downwards pressure on price among current competing suppliers will increasingly fail to cover the actual costs of running services, and the businesses (whether private or charitable) currently running a huge volume of public services either collapse and go bankrupt, or breach and walk away from their service contracts. This will leave public bodies with major continuing statutory duties to meet for their citizens but insufficient service capacity to meet them. It is widely reported today that adult social care providers find themselves, en masse, at that brink of market collapse. Other markets, such as residential care for children, may not be far behind.
Either outcome (new monopolies or market collapse) will be catastrophic for public service users, taxpayers and for the public officials left with all the same legal duties and none of the assets, resources or expertise needed to meet them. It is essential that the orthodoxy, that greater competition will improve public services and save public money, is rejected, conclusively – for it is reliant on market competition that will in fact accelerate the worst possible outcomes for public service markets.

Kathy Evans
Chief Executive of Children England

This extract from Kittens Are Evil contains just Chapter 2: Public Service Markets Aren't Working for the Public Good... or as markets, by Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England. It is offered free of charge to help disseminate the important ideas it contains. If you would like to read more, please consider buying or recommending Kittens Are Evil. It's available from the publishers at or you can order it from any good bookseller or you can buy it on amazon.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

A Quick Phone Call Not Enough!

With the demise of Working Links and then Interserve, the NAO report and then PAC grilling of Spurr and Heaton, we've been a bit distracted and missed a number of developments I fear, such as HM Chief Inspector's thoughts on new technology. Here's the press release from a week or two ago:-

More evidence needed to prove technology leads to better probation supervision

The growing use of technology to supervise individuals on probation offers no conclusive benefits, according to new research.

More than 250,000 people are under probation supervision across England and Wales. Typically, probation officers supervise individuals through regular face-to-face meetings. Some Community Rehabilitation Companies – who are responsible for supervising low and medium-risk offenders – have turned to technology instead.

Some individuals are limited to telephone contact only and call their probation officer every six weeks or so. Others use electronic kiosks to check in at an office and do not see a probation officer during their visit. Research published by HM Inspectorate of Probation did not find evidence to suggest remote supervision leads to better outcomes.

Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: 

“We have long expressed concerns about telephone-only contact. This research shows there is a lack of high-quality evidence to prove remote supervision helps to rehabilitate individuals or improve public protection.

“Despite strong evidence showing the critical role of the relationship between the individual and the probation officer, it is not protected within the current model of probation service delivery. CRCs have been able to implement operating models that allow telephone-only contact with up to 40 per cent of individuals under supervision.

“In October, HM Prison and Probation Service introduced a new contractual requirement so CRCs have to offer face-to-face meetings at least once a month. While welcome, this change does not guarantee an effective relationship or ensure that risks to the public are adequately considered. The evidence base shows that successful probation delivery is linked to the quality of the relationship, and the frequency of meeting depends on the work that needs to be done.

“We take the simple view that you need to see people in order to support them to change their lives. It is difficult for a probation officer to build a trusting and challenging relationship with an individual under supervision if they only communicate by telephone.”

The research, which was conducted by academics at Manchester Metropolitan University, looked at more than 22,000 research articles published since 2007.

Dame Glenys said: 

“We are not against the use of technology in probation delivery. However, it should complement face-to-face meetings, rather than be a substitute for it. For example, a probation officer might find it helpful to have a catch-up telephone call with an individual between meetings or to check how a course is going. Contact solely by telephone or other forms of technology does not offer anywhere near the level of supervision that we want to see.”


The research report is well worth reading in full of course and it's probably as well we remind ourselves of this from the start:- 
While defining ‘supervision’ is not straightforward, for this REA we have adopted the definition used in the National Offender Management Model (NOMS, 2006: 26): 
“Effective supervision requires more than common sense. Securing not only compliance but also active co-operation in rehabilitation from both offenders and providers, within a correctional setting, requires a high level of knowledge and skill. . . . the bedrock of supervision is the ability to form and maintain a trusting working relationship with the offender and through it to model pro-social behaviour and attitudes.”

Monday 25 March 2019

Some Difficult Questions

Thanks go to the reader for drawing my attention to a piece in Private Eye regarding forthcoming Inquests. Right from the beginning of the TR omnishambles it was highlighted how the proposed split would increase risks to the public and the NPS will shortly have to find answers to investigations brought under the Human Rights Act Article 2 'Right to Life' which can look at circumstances surrounding a death and identify any failings by state agencies.

I suspect this is going to be a particularly unhappy process for all involved, not least because of reports that the secretive 'command and control' Civil Service management ethos now becoming prevalent within NPS is gaining an unhealthy reputation for a desire to 'throw the staff under the bus' in such circumstances, rather than admit to any systemic and structural failings borne of TR.   

Sunday 24 March 2019

A Very Sad Saga

Following his recent magnum opus performance in front of the PAC, some might have been surprised by this tweet from BBC's Danny Shaw:-
Congrats to @ButlerTrust award winners. Recipient of a special prize (and standing ovation) was HM Prisons & Probation Chief Michael Spurr who leaves his post this month. 
Regular readers are of course fully aware of the ongoing omnishambles that Mr Spurr has presided over within the probation part of his HMPPS bailiwick, but this lengthy, forensic FT article from several weeks ago confirms that the prison part has been just as much of a disaster:- 

What went wrong at Britain's prison of the future?

HMP Berwyn was meant to be a blueprint for fixing the penal system. Two years on, it is 40 per cent empty

In the hours before the first inmates arrived at Britain’s newest and biggest prison, governor Russ Trent said he was feeling proud. Nick Dann, the project’s deputy, confessed he had butterflies. They sat in the room that would soon be used for family visits: brightly coloured seats were grouped around low tables, overlooked by giant motivational posters. “Big journeys begin with the small steps”, read one. 

It was February 2017 and reporters were being shown around the empty site under a leaden sky. A group of boxy buildings jazzed up with stripes of red, blue, green and yellow, HMP Berwyn could almost be mistaken for a school from the outside, were it not for the bars on the windows and its location on a windswept industrial estate in North Wales. The two men knew that a lot was riding on HMP Berwyn. The rest of the prison system in England and Wales was spiralling into crisis. Prisoner numbers had almost doubled since the 1990s as a result of tougher sentencing, but prison places had not kept pace, leaving the government to stuff about 85,000 people into buildings originally designed to hold about 65,000. It had become common to cram two people into cells designed for one, sometimes in Victorian jails that were beginning to fall apart.

Between 2010 and 2017, the government cut the number of prison officers by a quarter as part of its post-recession austerity drive. The result of the crowded conditions and low staffing was a surge of violence and despair among inmates. Self-harm rates among prisoners had gone up by two-thirds since 2010; serious assault rates had more than doubled. Almost half of adults leaving custody were reoffending within a year of their release. If those were the problems, the government hoped HMP Berwyn would be the blueprint for the solution. The £220m Category C prison (prisons are ranked from A to D, with A the most secure) would hold 2,100 men, making it one of the biggest in Europe. Its size would bring economies of scale, but it wouldn’t just be a vast warehouse in which to store criminals cheaply. 

Trent, a charismatic former Royal Marine, promised a rehabilitative culture that would turn lives around. Prisoners would be referred to as men, cells as rooms, and wings as communities. Men would have phones, laptops (offering internal services, not the internet) and showers in their rooms. The prison would be run by the public sector, but outsourcing company Interserve would manage workshops to prepare inmates for jobs on release, and education provider Novus Cambria would offer a range of courses. Sarah Payne, then head of the prison service in Wales, told an event in 2015 that the goal was for HMP Berwyn to be “the flagship for the rest of the country [and] England to emulate”.

Two years after it opened, mystery surrounds the government’s prison of the future. As inmates continue to be crowded into older, dilapidated prisons, HMP Berwyn remains 40 per cent empty. Without the planned economies of scale, the prison that was forecast to be one of the cheapest Category C jails to run in England and Wales (at £14,000 per year per place) is currently one of the most expensive, at £36,000 per year per place. The Prison Service says HMP Berwyn is going through a “deliberate phased population increase” and running costs will reduce over time, but its own annual business plans show the original schedule was for it to be “fully populated” nine months ago. 

Julian Le Vay, a former finance director of the Prison Service, now retired, told the FT it was normal to build up a new prison population slowly, “but never this slowly”, particularly when “lives are being put at risk” due to overcrowding elsewhere. “There’s something going on there that they’re not being quite open about.” The Ministry of Justice declined to let the FT visit the prison and refused a request to interview any managers or officials. But information from prisoners’ families, prison officers, contractors and lawyers, together with reports and statistics gathered through Freedom of Information requests and MPs’ written questions to ministers, suggest HMP Berwyn remains half empty because key elements of the project have veered off track. 

When the prison opened, some buildings were either unfinished or unusable. The Interserve workshops, which were meant to provide prison jobs for 520 inmates, are delivering a fraction of what was promised, according to data the FT obtained through an FOI request. Assaults on staff and “use of force” incidents by staff against prisoners are higher at HMP Berwyn than other Category C prisons, according to government data. Since the prison opened, 338 ambulances have been sent there, the police have been called 135 times and the fire service 27 times, the FT’s FOIs show.

Injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive, also obtained through FOIs, include broken bones, excrement flung in prison officers’ faces, and nurses intoxicated after inhaling second-hand fumes from synthetic drugs such as spice, said to turn people into “zombies”. Reports from the prison’s health team show prisoners have been taken off prescription anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and painkillers without their consent, which some inmates say has driven them to self-medicate with illegal drugs. And Trent was suspended last year in mysterious circumstances. In a letter to MPs, one inmate called HMP Berwyn “the Rolls-Royce of prisons with a Ford Cortina engine under the bonnet”. 

It is not unusual for new prisons to have rocky starts: HMP Oakwood, a vast prison that opened seven years ago, began badly but is now running relatively well. And HMP Berwyn is still functioning far better than many of the UK’s jails. But as the government prepares to build more new prisons, it is worth learning the lessons from this project’s early years. It is a story of good intentions undermined by bad decisions and bungled procurement — and a reminder of how hard it is to do something different when the wider system is on its knees.

When HMP Berwyn opened, the Daily Mail newspaper called it “the cushiest jail in Britain”. The Sun plumped for “Pampered Porridge”. But while the tabloids sneered, prison experts praised ideas such as putting phones in cells to help prisoners maintain relationships with their families, which is linked to lower reoffending. They worried, though, that a series of early decisions would undercut the prison’s rehabilitative intent. 
Only 30 per cent of the cells were designed for one person; the rest were doubles.

Many prisons were already putting two men in a cell out of desperation, but this was a deliberate choice. There will always be some prisoners who prefer to share a cell — they may benefit from company if they are at risk of suicide, for example. But most people struggle without personal space. The decision contravened the recommendation to eliminate enforced cell-sharing by the UK’s official Mubarek Inquiry of 2006, commissioned after a teenager was clubbed to death by his cellmate. “If people consent to it . . . that’s fine,” said Frances Crook of the penal reform charity The Howard League. “But to build a new prison [that] forces people to share cells . . . even the Victorians didn’t do that.” 

Only 30 per cent of the prison’s cells were designed for one person The double cells at HMP Berwyn have narrow beds on each side, a desk with one chair, and a lidless toilet and shower in the corner with a curtain. Le Vay called it “a major retreat from civilised penal policy”, adding that it had probably been a way to save money. A Prison Service spokesman said the double cells were “purpose-built for double occupancy”, that “many” prisoners preferred to share, and that they spent a lot of time out of their cells. 

Experts also questioned the prison’s size and location. “The current government seems committed to building warehouse-style ‘mega-prisons’, despite a multitude of academic evidence and Inspectorate [of Prisons] reports showing that small prisons are more operationally effective,” wrote Yvonne Jewkes, a criminology professor at the University of Bath, in a journal article in 2017. Local politicians had wanted a smaller prison that could hold men from North Wales fairly close to their homes, which research shows is helpful for rehabilitation. “But it very quickly became evident [the MoJ] wanted to do a Titan, Texas-style prison” that would hold many prisoners from England, Marc Jones, a councillor from the town of Wrexham, told the FT. 

The chosen site was an industrial park 3.5 miles outside Wrexham (£4.50 return from the city centre by bus, £8 each way by taxi), which itself was a long journey for many prisoners’ families, particularly the 75 per cent or so from England. For some, these decisions doomed the project from the start. “There is no way that prison can function effectively ever,” said Crook, citing its size, location and double cells. 

Others believed HMP Berwyn could surmount the challenges. After all, it would have new facilities, plenty of activities and a totally different culture. “Everything we know that works well is [at Berwyn],” Trent told the news site in 2017. He said every inmate could attend work or education, and would be treated with respect. “If you’ve got trust and respect, it reduces the chance of violence between the men and the people who . . . look after them.” But one by one, these promises started to come unstuck. When the prison health team, supplied by a local health board called the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, gained access to the site in early 2017, it discovered the health facilities “had not been designed or built to the specifications and designs submitted by the Health Board”, according to its own annual report. 

Asked for an explanation, a Prison Service spokesman told the FT that construction company Lendlease had met its obligations and the healthcare facility “was designed to the NHS standard”, but that the health team had “identified amendments that could be made to the specification, to go beyond the NHS standard and deliver an even better quality of service”. The health team’s report painted a different picture. It described a “lack of compliance with infection prevention and control standards, unsuitable and insufficient data and electrical configurations and unsuitable design of facilities”, which made treating patients “unsafe” and “required a complete rebuild of some areas”. That led to delays in providing healthcare for months after the prison opened. In January 2018, 98 men had been waiting more than 14 weeks to see a dentist. 

Those weren’t the only problems. The project, built on the site of an old tyre factory, initially came in £45m under budget thanks in part to “value engineering” decisions such as changing the prison’s layout and mitigating asbestos “on site” rather than paying to remove it. A few months after it opened, Roland Karthaus, director of a firm called Matter Architecture, performed tests and surveyed inmates at HMP Berwyn with the MoJ’s permission for a research project. His final report said that while the building was far better than many older prisons, there were too few areas for staff, no proper ventilation in the house blocks (where the cells are) and problematic noise levels. According to Karthaus, the “reverberation time” for sound in the house blocks was 3.5 seconds. “Above a second, speech becomes virtually unintelligible . . . so you have entirely hard surfaces, everyone is shouting all the time and you can’t escape it, it’s your whole life,” he told the FT. 

Maintenance also became a problem. In January 2018, there was a complete failure of the heating and hot water, which took five days to fix. This winter, the heating broke down again. The prison service was “urgently working” with contractors to fix problems with the heating system, a spokesman said. Then there was the centrepiece of the rehabilitative vision: workshops that were meant to keep 520 prisoners busy, imparting useful skills. Interserve’s winning bid to run them listed five subcontractors including a call centre, a small windmill manufacturer and a recycling company. Interserve’s 2017 annual report, published in April 2018, devoted a special box to the project, saying it “provides employment places for 520 men . . . designed to replicate a normal working environment”. But that wasn’t true when the report was published and it’s still not true today. 

The workshop buildings were not ready when the prison opened, according to multiple sources and FOI requests. They lacked basics like electrical work, fixtures and fittings. “The lack of work spaces has probably been the greatest challenge for everyone who lives and works at Berwyn,” Trent wrote in his anniversary message to staff a year after the prison opened. “The procurement process has not yet gone as we would have hoped or planned [and], consequently, there are too many men left on the communities during the day.” 

Today, two full years after the prison opened, the workshop buildings are still not ready. “There were just so many delays, it was ridiculous,” said Mark Gilbert of recycling company Emerald Trading, one of the original subcontractors, who became fed up of waiting and pulled out. Interserve has been running a pared-down set of workshops inside one of the house blocks. In January this year, it was providing 200 places, with about 150 to 160 prisoners attending on average. Interserve told the FT that the box in its annual report “was intended as an explanation of the project and our contractual obligations, and not performance of the contract”. 

No one admits blame for the workshop mess. Lendlease told the FT: “All of our work was successfully completed to specifications requested by the MoJ.” Interserve told the FT it had been asked by the MoJ in October 2017 (eight months after the prison opened) to provide the mechanical and electrical work required to finish the workshops. That final contract was only signed in October 2018 and the work is not due to be finished until April. A prison service spokesman said Lendlease and Interserve “delivered on the specification requested of them”. He added: “The process of deciding who would ‘fit out’ the workshops was carried out once the detailed functionality of the workshops was known, and there were delays during this process, due to the detailed negotiations required.” 

The workshop debacle helps explain why there are still only about 1,300 inmates in a prison designed to hold 2,100. Prison deputy Nick Dann told MPs last year that the population “ramp-up plan” was linked to the number of activity places available. “It is primary for us and our stability that we have activities for the new men as we receive them each week.” Crook put it more succinctly: “The devil makes work for idle hands.” 

At 4.30 one recent afternoon, prisoners’ ­relatives spilled out of HMP Berwyn into the bitterly cold dusk. Most headed for the car park. Sally Smith, a wriggly baby in her arms, flopped on to a chair in the visitor centre. She had been to see her partner, who was transferred to HMP Berwyn almost a year ago. “They sold him the dream,” Smith (not her real name) sighed. “They said it’s a new prison to help people. But it’s terrible.” It’s not easy to gather a fair impression of life inside a prison from outside the gate. 

No official inspection report for the prison has been published yet and prisoners are banned from communicating with journalists without permission from the governor. Interviews with prisoners’ relatives, friends, lawyers and other representatives paint a mixed picture. Some of those transferred from other prisons found it a vast improvement. “People want to come here — it’s like they’re ­winning if they’re here,” said one young woman whose partner had arrived a month ago. He had started studying maths. Another called it “really good”, especially the education facilities. 

‘They said it’s a new prison to help people. But it’s terrible’ HMP Berwyn’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) — a panel of citizen volunteers — wrote in a report last July that men were “treated fairly and with decency” and the MoJ “should be applauded” for supporting a “new progressive regime”. Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, told the FT he had been sceptical initially about the prison’s size, but felt the project had been delivered well overall. It was a good physical environment and everyone he met there was focused on rehabilitation, though he added this had been “undermined to some extent” by the failure to open the workshops. 

Others described a consistent set of problems, starting with the prison’s failure to live up to its own promises. HMP Berwyn staff had gone on “roadshows” to recruit prisoners from other jails. “They had a list of courses and things they could be doing, which is what he wants, he wants to better himself,” said the partner of one prisoner, who did not want to be named. “Now he’s there, they’re like, ‘Oh no, we don’t have the facilities for that.’” Her partner is one of 250 inmates at HMP Berwyn who have asked to be transferred to a different prison, according to data obtained through a ministerial written question. Kelly Coombs, who runs Census Group, a call-centre company that employs inmates in many prisons including HMP Berwyn, said that while the prison’s aspirations were “exactly right”, inmates felt they were “promised this entirely transformative experience, and that hasn’t happened”. 

Drugs have also found their way in. By October 2017, it was clear some men had been “abusing the freedoms in visits” to smuggle in drugs, Trent admitted in his anniversary message; the rules were duly tightened. On March 31 last year, a 22-year-old called Luke Jones died in his cell. The preliminary inquest blamed a heart attack probably caused by spice; a full inquest has still not been held. The IMB wrote in July 2018 that illegal drugs were “readily available” in the flagship jail. But it also warned that some prisoners had been driven to “self-medicate” with drugs because of the prison’s practice of taking some inmates off their prescription medications. 

Smith, sitting with her baby in the visitor centre, said this was one of the first signs of trouble for her partner. He was on mirtazapine for anxiety and depression, but when he was transferred to HMP Berwyn, a prison doctor told him: “We don’t like these here.” Smith added: “They said they’d put him on something else but they never did. He’s basically in withdrawal.” 

 A table contained in the health board’s annual pharmacy report for 2017 provides a snapshot of the number of prisoners with prescriptions on arrival, and the number in November 2017. The number of men on a range of different antidepressants such as mirtazapine had been cut between 65 and 78 per cent (depending on the specific drug in question). Anti-psychotics had been cut between 45 and 63 per cent, hypnotics and anxiolytics between 93 and 100 per cent, and most opiates by between 82 and 100 per cent. Only methadone had increased, by 8 per cent. 

Ian Lucas, the local MP, who has visited the pharmacy at HMP Berwyn, called it a “tough love” approach. “Essentially it’s a deliberate policy to not prescribe them the amount of drugs, because apparently they say that some of them come with a Sainsbury’s bag full of . . . prescribed medication,” he said. “You can imagine that one way of coping with being locked up is just being doped up all the time.” 

In his anniversary message to staff, Trent acknowledged “our policy of optimising medication” had proved “very difficult for men to cope with in their early days” but suggested they felt much better “as they come through it”. But the IMB warned in its July report that men were living in the Care and Separation unit, sometimes known as a segregation unit, because they couldn’t cope without medication that, in some cases, they had been using for a long time. “It would appear to the Board there is a downside to a policy which means that, in effect, a percentage of men are subject to a compulsory detox, which inevitably affects behaviour and adds to the supply and demand issues around illicit drugs in the establishment.” 

Pamela Taylor, chair of the forensic faculty for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said such an approach was “not unusual” but that HMP Berwyn was “much more structured and . . . committed in the way they [are] trying to do it”. She also said many prisoners and non-prisoners accumulated prescriptions over time that might no longer be appropriate: “[So] many of us would say it is good, but I can also understand why it’s not universally liked by the people on the receiving end.” Ideally, she added, such decisions would be made consensually with patients, drugs would be tapered and patients would be reviewed. “The big question is whether they then get, within a reasonable period of time, a further review to check how they’ve been without that medication, and/or an option to go back to the doctor and say, ‘Look, I feel just dreadful.’” 

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which provides healthcare in the prison, told the FT its practice was to give prisoners a “medication review” with a GP on arrival, in accordance with a guideline from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. “Within the prison population, medication is often abused by patients and it therefore may not be appropriate for said medication to be prescribed,” a spokeswoman for the health board said. “At HMP Berwyn we have noted large numbers of patients transferred from other prisons have never had medication reviews that meet the standard of Nice guidelines and therefore their ‘normal medication’ is not deemed as safe and effective to continue.” 

She said an alternative was prescribed where appropriate, and that the objective was always to reach agreement with patients, but that “often, patients do not always agree with prescribing decisions, despite the best efforts of clinicians to explain the reasons.” She also said the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales had not upheld any complaints into the health board’s practices.

Broken promises and drug problems have been compounded by the inexperience of HMP Berwyn’s prison officers. This has been a problem across the prison service: many seasoned officers were lost during the deep cuts between 2010 and 2017. The challenge was magnified at HMP Berwyn because it had to be staffed from scratch. Data obtained through an FOI request shows that, in September 2018, about a fifth of HMP Berwyn’s front-line prison officers had less than a year’s experience, and a further 56 per cent only had between one year and two. More than 40 per cent were still in their twenties. The jobs are advertised at less than £23,000 a year and turnover is high. 

Staff said seasoned prisoners exploited their inexperience. “A lot of them take advantage of the good nature of the system [and] a lot of the staff,” explained one HMP Berwyn prison officer who has now left his job. Another said new staff were “not supporting each other, which makes the wings unsafe. The [prisoners] make the rules and the new staff are too worried to challenge them.” 

Families of prisoners, meanwhile, said the officers dealt with prisoners more aggressively than was typical in other prisons. The latest published statistics for January to September 2018 support both sides of this story. Assault rates at HMP Berwyn are slightly above average for similar establishments, but it is assaults on staff that really stand out: the rates are higher than at any other Category C prison in England and Wales, according to the FT’s analysis. One of these attacks happened the day after Luke Jones died. A prisoner, upset about his death, fractured an officer’s cheek and broke his nose with a single punch, then assaulted a second officer. Other prisoners intervened to help the officers. The first was hospitalised for five days; the second told the court he thought he and his colleague were lucky to escape the wing alive. 

Arfon Jones, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, told the FT the prison had been a drain on resources. “This year, I have made it perfectly clear, I am not putting any extra money into that prison,” he said.  As for staff violence against prisoners, the government has no recent comparable data on “use of force” at different prisons. But last year, official inspectors criticised HMP Humber, a Category C prison with a similar population size to HMP Berwyn, for 206 “use of force” incidents in the previous six months, “more than at . . . other category C training prisons”. 

In the most recent six months for which data is available for HMP Berwyn (July to December 2018), there were 626 such incidents, which are meant to be used only as a last resort. Injury reports filed to the Health and Safety Executive include several where prison officers fractured bones in their hands during “control and restraint” incidents. The partner of the prisoner seeking a transfer said she thought some young staff had “got a bit of power and it’s gone to their heads”. 

Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the POA, the prison officers’ union, told the FT: “Inexperienced staff tend to use force as a first option, whereas experienced staff will use de-escalation techniques. If you don’t have experienced staff . . . then really you need management grip — and by that I mean: why don’t we have managers on residential units who stay there and guide and coach staff and motivate them?” 

“Management grip” was meant to be governor Russ Trent’s style. “He’s very command-and-­control . . . and he likes to get stuff done,” said Crook. At HMP Berwyn, Trent was determined to instil a different culture. When Faith Spear, a former IMB chair at a different prison, visited the prison last summer at Trent’s invitation, he handed her a pack of cards. Each card represented a different “Berwyn practice”, she explained in a blog post. “Day 1: We recognise achievements and celebrate successes #thankyou.” “Day 2: We actively listen to each other and make eye contact #respect.” 

But multiple sources say some staff clashed with Trent’s style, which they felt gave too much power to prisoners and left them unsupported. At most prisons, inmates earn privileges through good behaviour, but at HMP Berwyn they were given privileges on arrival and had them removed for poor behaviour. Fairhurst said: “That really, in my eyes, has been a social experiment that has gone severely wrong . . . You had management in place, many of whom were newly promoted and wanted to embrace this new culture to the detriment of security, control, order and discipline.” 

Trent seemed undaunted by any internal resistance. In July last year he tweeted: “‘It’s impossible’ said Pride. ‘It’s risky,’ said Experience. ‘It’s pointless,’ said Reason. ‘Give it a try,’ whispered Heart.” A month later, he was abruptly suspended from his job after allegations were made about him; the Prison Service did not specify what they were. Trent did not respond to the FT’s attempt to contact him, but the Prison Service said that, following an investigation, “no formal disciplinary action” had been taken. He has now returned to work in the Prison Service (though not at HMP Berwyn). An interim governor was brought in, and a new permanent one will start next month. 

In response to the figures on violence, drugs and staff inexperience, the Prison Service spokesman said the government was spending an extra £70m to fight drugs across all prisons, training more than 4,000 new prison officers, and rolling out “Pava” incapacitant spray to officers. HMP Berwyn has been given new drug-detection equipment, dogs and a specialist search team. It is also using a new “Challenge, Support and Intervention Plan” to help staff “manage violent prisoners” and a key worker scheme to improve prisoner-staff relationships. 

As dusk fell, Smith gathered up her baby and headed to the car park to meet her cousin who had driven her from England. She wouldn’t have to do this journey much longer: her partner was due out fairly soon and she couldn’t wait. But if there was a plan in place to help him get on his feet, she didn’t know about it. 

Most jails in England and Wales don’t have a great record at helping prisoners transition back to normal life. “I left prison with £46 and PTSD,” said Cody Lachey, a former prisoner (not at HMP Berwyn) who now speaks out about prison reform. The public might like the idea of “brutalising prisoners”, Lachey told the FT, but it ultimately costs society when those people are released back into the community: “People are entering broken, and leaving in bits.” 

The team at HMP Berwyn hoped to show there was a better way, but the prison is tied into a wider probation system that is in disarray. In 2013, then justice secretary Chris Grayling began the part-privatisation of the system across England and Wales: a group of mainly private-sector companies took on contracts to manage low-to-medium-risk offenders, while the public sector continued to deal with high-risk ones. 

In a damning report published last week, the National Audit Office concluded the MoJ had “set itself up to fail” with “rushed” reforms that proved “extremely costly for taxpayers” and had seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison “skyrocket”. In Wales, the contract was given to Working Links, a company owned by a German private equity firm. Last month, Working Links collapsed into administration. The government has said that the private probation contracts will end early, but the design of the new system is not yet clear. 

Katie Lomas, national chair of Napo, the trade union for probation officers, said HMP Berwyn had a “really positive aim” to focus on rehabilitation. “But if the structure that you are trying to put that inside of doesn’t help, then you’re at war with yourself before you even start.” Liz Saville Roberts, a North Wales MP from the Plaid Cymru party who has obtained data about HMP Berwyn through ministerial questions, agreed. “The regime itself was, and is, very worthwhile,” she said, “if it was given the means with which it could actually succeed.” Crook of the Howard League, meanwhile, argued the answer was not to build more prisons at all but to reduce the prison population. 

The government’s stance appears to be in flux. Last month, David Gauke, the justice secretary, made a case for abolishing custodial sentences of less than six months and managing those criminals in the community instead. He called for “a national debate about what justice, including punishment, should look like”. But plans for big new prisons continue. In December, the MoJ amended its request for planning permission for a new Category C prison in Yorkshire: having “reviewed the level and distribution of strategic need”, it wanted to up the number of prisoners from 1,017 to 1,440. 

Still, there are signs the MoJ has learnt some lessons. The design for a new prison in Wellingborough states that the majority of cells will be singles, not doubles. The Prison Service spokesman noted that closed floors and bar-less sealed windows there would “help reduce noise levels and create an atmosphere conducive to rehabilitation”. He pointed out the IMB for HMP Berwyn had recognised the “considerable achievement” of opening a big and complex prison, and the “excellent work” of staff who ran a regime “with many examples of good and innovative practice”. 

He added: “As with any new prison there have been planning and implementation issues, which we have worked hard to resolve, and we know there will be more to do as we move towards full occupancy. Lessons learnt from Berwyn, along with our extensive consultation of stakeholders and prison design experts, will shape our approach as we develop an estate that can improve rehabilitation and create safe and secure environments for staff and offenders.” 

Inside the prison fence, not everyone is so optimistic. Shortly after Luke Jones died at HMP Berwyn, an older prisoner wrote a letter to Inside Time, the magazine for people in jail. He wanted to tell Jones’s family how sad and upset everyone was. “An internal investigation . . . will now ensue, and then a message to say ‘Lessons have been learnt’ . . . I’m a middle-aged man now and angered by the sadness I feel at this young man losing his life,” he wrote. “No lessons are ever learnt.” 

Sarah O’Connor and Cynthia O’Murchu are investigations correspondents at the FT. Additional reporting by Helen Warrell.