Family's heartache as judge claims victim impact statements make 'no difference'

Murder victim's parents overheard the comment at a hearing for their son's killers

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The Independent Online

A judge has been overheard saying that the victim impact statement read out by a murdered man's parents made “no difference” to parole judgements for his killers.

Judge Graham White apologised to Geraldine and Peter McGinty, who had told the Parole Board they were "serving a life sentence of heartache and grief and pain" over the murder of their 21-year-old son Colin in 2001.

During a hearing on his killers’ requests for transfer to open prisons, they overheard the judge’s private conversation over a video link he believed was disconnected.

Mrs McGinty told the BBC: "The judge turned round and said to someone else in the room: 'I feel so very sorry for these families.

"'They make these statements thinking they are going to make a difference, but they make no difference at all. Someone should tell them.'

"The heartache that we go through to do these statements, to be told they don't make any difference."

The Parole Board recommended that both their son’s killers, Michael Brown and Gary Hampton, should be moved to open prisons as they requested.

Judge White told the BBC he was sorry for the effect his comments had on Mr McGinty's family, but added that while the statements had an impact, they cannot affect the Parole Board's judgement of a prisoner's risk to the public.

He added: "We don't think that victims necessarily have explained to them what the role of the board is and what we have to take into account."

The statements allow victims and their families to explain how they are affected by crime and what the impact of a perpetrator’s release would be but the Parole Board’s role, as defined by the Ministry of Justice, is primarily to assess an offender’s risk to the public.

The nature of the offence, the prisoner's offending history and progress made, psychological reports, probation officers and prison officers and public safety - as well as victim statements - are taken into account.

Colin McGinty was stabbed to death in Bootle, Merseyside, in a believed case of mistaken identity and Brown and Hampton were jailed months later.

In their victim statement, his parents said the sight of their dying son, the second of their five children, would haunt them forever.

His last words to his father in hospital were "I can't breathe".

Mr and Mrs McGinty felt they were misled about the issue of victim statements and the affect they could have.

"We need a bit more, to be treated with respect and we're not," Mrs McGinty said.

Sir David Calvert-Smith, chairman of the Parole Board, admitted there were "real communication difficulties" in the area and announced an investigation into Judge White’s comments as well as efforts to better inform families.