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Probation journal 2010 Sonnex case

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Probation journal 2010 Sonnex case

Probation journal 2010 Sonnex case

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  • 1. Research & reports The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice Copyright © 2010 NAPO Vol 57(1): 83–88 DOI: 10.1177/0264550510365127 www.napo.org.uk http://prb.sagepub.com Serious Further Offence: The case of Dano Sonnex Dano Sonnex was convicted, with Nigel Farmer, of the murder of two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez on 29 June 2008 at their flat in New Cross in the London Borough of Lewisham. They were victims of a burglary, during which they were bound, tortured and killed by Farmer and Sonnex, who stabbed their victims up to 200 times both before and after death, and then tried to conceal the crime by setting fire to the ground floor flat. Below are summaries of three reports that have considered the Serious Further Offence (SFO) from a local perspective; the prison context, and cross-agency communication. They are not comprehensive summaries of the reports, and instead aim to highlight the different salient issues raised in the separate reports. At the time of the offence Sonnex was at large having been recalled by London Probation Area (LPA) on 3 June 2008, 15 days prior to the offence taking place. At age 17 Sonnex received eight years detention for assault with intent to resist arrest, having imitation firearms with intent, attempted robbery, robbery ×4 and wounding with intent (GBH s18). The unprovoked stabbing against a young man he knew occurred when Sonnex was age 16 and the victim sustained a collapsed lung. The robberies took place when he was age 17 and while in possession of a blank firing pistol and a knife, of which both were used. Offender management of Dano Sonnex: The local context For all cases under the supervision of National Probation Service that are charged with an alleged SFO, the local probation area or trust conducts an investigation and review of the case in order to establish whether the quality of the supervision of the offender and the level of the supervision had any bearing on the alleged offence. This summary of the full review undertaken by LPA provides some of the chronological information and key assessment stages alongside the issues and learning points raised from the review. The pre-sentence report completed by a Youth Offending Team (YOT) assessed Sonnex’s risk of harm to be ‘very high’ (p. 14). The case was transferred to London Downloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013 83
  • 2. 84 57(1) Probation Area five months into his 8 year custodial sentence after Sonnex turned 18. The first parole review took place in 2006. The seconded probation officer’s (PO) report identified Sonnex’s experiences of an abusive childhood, heavy drinking and crack cocaine use of approximately £300 per day. While in prison Sonnex had 41 adjudications, including stabbing an inmate with a pen and one for arson. The seconded PO assessed Sonnex as high risk of serious offending and did not support a parole application. The home PO’s report stated that no offending behaviour work had been undertaken. A home visit to his mother’s address was found suitable, although the risk of harm was assessed as high and parole not supported. Two subsequent prison OASys assessments assessed Sonnex as high risk of harm to the public. A second parole assessment took place in 2007. The prison parole report assessed Sonnex as low risk to known adult and high risk to the public. ‘There was almost no pre-release contact with the offender. The parole reports were completed following interviews by video link and telephone.’ (p. 26) Non-parole licence conditions included addressing his substance mis-use and attending the Cognitive Skills Booster Programme (CSBP). Sonnex was released from a Young Offenders Institute on 8 February 2008 and was assessed as medium risk and placed as a tier 3 case. He was of no fixed address. Drug use was discussed in every supervision session, although no referral to drugs services took place and assessment was based solely on the offender’s self-disclosure. No referral to CSBP was undertaken, although he had maintained 12 appointments before contact was lost following a Court appearance. Information was received from Social Services about allegations of tying up his cousin, who was five months pregnant, and her partner, placing pillow cases over their heads and threatening kidnap. Social Services and police were investigating the allegations that were subsequently not pursued by the police because the witnesses withdrew their allegations. Because no charge was made, in consultation with the SPO, a decision not to recall was taken and a warning letter was issued. The report highlights that at the very least the information should have triggered an OASys assessment because of the new information, thus in turn identifying high risk of harm and triggering a MAPPA referral. On release Sonnex was recorded as a medium risk tier 3 case on Delius (LPA’s case management system) although he was assessed as high risk on OASys. This assessment was based on the his good progress during the latter part of his sentence; being drug free and being of good behaviour in the latter stage of the prison element of his sentence. During supervision he presented as ‘polite, well dressed, co-operative and compliant’ (p. 35). The Start OASys was completed on 25 May 2008, 3 months after his release, and so the medium risk of harm assessment was not evidenced from the outset of the licence. Because of the medium harm risk assessment, he was viewed as not suitable for placement in approved premises, so returned to his parent’s address that had previously been identified as unsuitable at the second parole assessment stage because of reports of drug use, criminal activity by other family members and domestic violence. A MAPPA referral was completed prior to release, although due to a section of the report failing to print the referral was not progressed to the panel. Thus the SFO report raises concerns Downloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013
  • 3. Research & reports 85 about the failure to evidence medium risk assessment within OASys and follow up the MAPPA referral, the non-action combined contributed to an approved premises referral not being possible. Process over-riding risk of harm concerns was identified as the critical issue at the stage when recall action was taken. Sonnex appeared in Court on 24 April 2008 for Handling Stolen Goods, although this information only reached the OM by 30 April 2008. Recall papers were then prepared on 3 May 2008. It then took 33 days for the recall to be processed and reach the Release and Recall Section because of poor communication, and poor understanding of the urgency of recall across all staffing grades. Information was received by the OM that Sonnex had been bailed and no further supervision appointments were issued because of the belief that Sonnex would be returned to custody soon following recall being actioned. With regard to staffing issues, the case was managed by a number of PSOs during the custodial period, with the first PAR being completed by a PO and the second PAR being undertaken by a newly qualified PO. The OM had been qualified for nine months at the time of the SFO, and on qualifying had inherited a caseload from an OM that had been off sick, and a PSOs full resettlement case load, thus was supervising over 100 cases. In addition to the workload, she had PSRs and PARs to write and undertook Court Duty fortnightly. Line management supervision although initially monthly became less regular. Staffing levels within the borough were low. The OM had a period of sick leave for a month and on her return began working weekends to manage her workload. It is notable that the recall papers were completed at a weekend. The SFO review notes some specific good practice that is attributed to the inexperienced OM. The OM gained a good level of compliance from Sonnex and the report notes good use of professional skills to build up a rapport with Sonnex. There was evidence of appropriate liaison and consultation with the OM’s SPO, the Public Protection Unit SPO and the Victim Liaison Unit. Specific local learning points that were indentified included that planning for release should begin at least six months prior to release and MAPPA meetings to take place at the appropriate level. Concerns were identified about the timeliness of recall, particularly for high risk cases. The recall was delayed at a level above the OM, and thus processes need to be in place to ensure recalls can take place within 24 hours. A further local learning point was concerned with the role of SPOs countersigning OASys assessments, and the need for being more challenging about gaps and quality of the assessment. The report concludes by identifying seven action points. With regard to assessments, it was viewed that the Sonnex’s behaviour during the latter stages of the sentence and his presentation on release overrode the risk concerns when in the community, with insufficient attention being given to the static factors that were known about this case. A learning point in relation to supervision was a failure to implement all the licence requirements and that no explanation or endorsement of the decision not to implement or delay certain additional licence conditions was given. Providing supervision for practitioners was identified as means of managing this. Other learning points are also raised that are addressed further in the report summaries below including the issue of staffing levels and capacity. Downloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013
  • 4. 86 57(1) The Serious Further Offence (SFO) Identification, Notification, Initial Review, Full Review, Action Plan, and Outcome document – Serious Further Offence Review conducted by London Probation into the case of Dano Sonnex, May 2009, can be accessed online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/docs/serious-furtheroffence-review-sonnex-web.pdf End to end management of Dano Sonnex: The prison context The report completed by NOMS investigated the risk assessment and risk management by HMP Prison and LPA leading up to his release, and investigated the supervision and the systems operated by LPA. The issues identified are considered in light of previous recommendations arising out of previous SFO inquiries, including Hanson and White (HMIP, 2006). It considers the wider issues about roles, responsibilities and expectations of the Board. For the purpose of this summary emphasis will focus on the prison context. Five recommended actions are made in the report for NOMS, LPA and HMPS. The first recommendation is in regard to the sharing of information, regardless of its source within the system, to ensure responsible management of the offender during the course of the sentence. Sonnex’s behavioural presentation raised issues. Notably he was transferred on a number of occasions during his early custodial period because of his poor behaviour, receiving 40 adjudications for taking drugs, disobeying orders, threatening behaviour and setting fire to items in his cell. He had regular periods on segregation units and was a challenging prisoner. He was referred to a psychiatrist to deal with his paranoia and anger management at HMP Feltham. At HMP Portland he was referred to the Mental Health In-Reach Team. In May 2004 a doctor at HMP Aylesbury had assessed Sonnex as having Conduct Disorder. The work undertaken by a Medical Officer at HMP Portland was particularly pertinent. The Medical Officer contacted the Community Mental Health Team raising concerns about Sonnex’s dangerousness, history of violence, lack of remorse, latent aggression and prison adjudication history. The information also states that Sonnex’s acknowledged his ‘reactions could kill’ (p. 8). A further report identified possibility of Aspergers Syndrome. Further appointments made available with mental health services in prison were not taken up by Sonnex. The concerning element is that the information in the medical officer’s note, while contained in Sonnex’s Inmate Medical Record, was not used by or available to other staff who had the responsibility of assessing his risk of harm. As Sonnex progressed through the prison sentence, while there was mention of his mood swings and paranoia, this information was no longer considered an issue in his July 2007 OASys because of his improved behaviour in prison and being drug free for 12 months. Risk assessments changed during the custodial period. There were high risk of harm assessments made in OASys assessments and parole assessments, stating he was a high risk of harm to the public and risk was likely to increase if he returned to drug use. Medium risk of harm assessments have arisen from the sudden improved change in behaviour and not using drugs, and this change appears to have sigDownloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013
  • 5. Research & reports 87 nificantly influenced later risk assessments. If it could have been balanced with the earlier concerns raised by the medical officer such behavioural change might have been assessed differently. The issues that emerge from the custodial period include: failure to transfer information from medical files to general prison file; fluctuating risk assessments from high to medium; too little input from the OM prior to release; and disproportionate weight given to Sonnex’s apparent change in behaviour. The third recommendation is linked with training requirements for practitioners. Those qualifying should be able to demonstrate an appropriate awareness of mental health issues to orchestrate relevant referrals to mental health specialists to assist with the management of the risk of harm. There were poor behavioural attitude issues that the 40 adjudications in prison demonstrate, including setting light to items in his cell in the Segregation Unit, which was considered to be an act of self-harm. The concern raised by the NOMS report is that neither the prison or probation staff prioritized the mental health aspects when dealing with this case. There was no clear information about whether or not Sonnex had a mental health diagnosis. The analysis of the Sonnex case in the NOMS report usefully considers previous SFO reviews. There are particular similarities with the Hanson case in that: Sonnex was subject to a long prison sentence at age 17; he had a history of instrumental violence; Hanson was subject to a number of adjudications for violence; initially Hanson’s behaviour was disruptive and then he was compliant during the later stages of his sentence. Similarly, learning points that arose from the Hanson and White case included: lack of attention to instrumental violence; failure to set a suitable release plan; sporadic contact by LPA during the custodial element of the sentence; incorrect risk assessment and allocation of case; and staff shortages – all of which were attributed to the weaknesses of the management of the case. The recommendations from the Hanson and White case remain pertinent to the management of Sonnex, namely: the quality of OASys and risk assessments; improved use of OASys and improved staff supervision. Finally, the NOMS report considers wider issues and a fifth recommendation highlights the need for capacity safety. It is acknowledged that the prison service has processes to measure ‘operating safety’ (p. 19), i.e. minimum staffing levels. However, there is no similar process for probation areas. Thus, the fifth recommendation identifies the need for NOMS to ensure chief officers can consider caseloads, staffing levels, and tiering levels, so that probation areas and trusts can operate appropriately, managing risk assessments and risk management, to enable safety and public protection to be prioritized. Reference HM Inspectorate of Probation (2006), ‘An Independent Review of a Serious Further Offence case: Damien Hanson and Elliot White’. London: HMSO NOMS Report – Investigation into the issues arising from the Serious Further Offence Review: Dano Sonnex, by Liz Hill Regional Offender Manager, South West (January 2009) can be accessed on line at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/ news/docs/noms-investigation-report-sonnex.pdf Downloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013
  • 6. 88 57(1) Issues for multi-agency communication – London Criminal Justice Board report London Criminal Justice Board (LCJB) co-ordinates a programme of performance improvements across a variety of criminal justice responsibilities and seeks to improve the service provided by CJS. The LCJB has a role to play in co-ordinating and strengthening end to end management, particularly in relation to co-ordination of agency communication when an offender is in the community. It is in this context that the LCJB considered the circumstances of the SFO, so that issues linked with cross criminal justice agency processes could be identified and steps taken to improve any weaknesses. The report considers the learning for the CJS. Action to improve timeliness of licence recalls has been taken, increasing recalls done within timescale from 53% in November 2007 to 67% in January 2009. In order to put this in to context, from February 2008 to January 2009 London dealt with 2017 licence recalls. Having been released from prison, allegations were made by a pregnant female relative that she and her partner had been tied up by Sonnex. The matter was referred to the police by Social Services. The Crown Prosecution Service were not consulted because of lack of evidence. On 23 April 2008 Mr Sonnex was charged by the police for handling stolen goods and was remanded at HMP Belmarsh. With regard to these incidents, the report identifies two areas for consideration. First, communication between agencies; the sharing of information about people on licence between police and probation, along with information required by the Court when people who are on licence are before them. The report sets out guidance of action police officers should take if, during the course of an investigation, they identify someone who is on licence. Likewise, if a Court established that a defendant is on licence then specific information needs to be clarified. The second theme of the report is the timeliness of processes being carried out. The report provides a number of annex documents that provide guidance for strengthening performance management of the different agencies’ responsibilities at specific stages of the process. Within the chronology of events, the LCJB report identifies key stages where processes were not followed, including the police not consulting with CPS regarding the alleged kidnap incident referred to the police by Social Services; appearing in Court and being remanded in custody for handling stolen goods, and the warrant being issued by the Recall Section at the Ministry of Justice via Police National Computer and to the Borough of Lewisham. The guidance for Justice Clerks for dealing with defendants who remain on licence appearing in Court requires that a timeframe for being returned to custody is established and recorded. In addition there is an expectation that 80% of emergency recalls should be detained within 74 hours and 75% of standard recalls detained in 144 hours. Potential learning for the criminal justice service following the arrest of Dano Sonnex by London Criminal Justice Board, April 2009, can be accessed on line at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/docs/lcjb-sonnex-web.pdf Emma Cluley Greater Manchester Probation Trust Downloaded from prb.sagepub.com at NAPO on December 22, 2013