Former prisoners killed 98 while under supervision

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Ninety-eight people were murdered in the past two years by former prisoners who were supposed to be under supervision after being released early.

Offenders also carried out another 32 attempted murders, 106 rapes and 378 other serious crimes, including manslaughter, kidnapping, arson and armed robbery, over the period.

The Government was accused of a shocking failure to protect the public but the Home Office insisted the reoffending rate represented only a tiny proportion of offenders being monitored.

John Monckton, the City financier stabbed to death on his doorstep, and Naomi Bryant, the Hampshire woman murdered by the rapist Anthony Rice, are among the best-known recent victims of offenders freed on licence. But new Home Office figures show a series of other serious crimes were carried out by criminals released into the community. They included 60 murders in 2004-05 and 38 in the following year.

Ministers are searching for ways of easing the pressure on prisons, whose population passed the 80,000 mark last week. But they also face an uphill struggle to rebuild public confidence in the probation services.

The Home Office said it took reoffending seriously, but argued that only 0.2 per cent of offenders being supervised were convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence in any one year.

But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is a shocking indictment of Government failure across the board to protect the public. How much longer must the public pay the often lethal price of this failure?"

He called for the Home Office to create extra prison places to ensure offenders served an "honest and appropriate sentence".

The 2005 Offender Management Statistics disclosed that the period of imprisonment served by criminals handed a mandatory life jail term remained stable at 14 years before parole. But for other lifers - such as those handed a discretionary life term - the average time served fell from nine years in 2004 to six years last year.

The figures also revealed that the average minimum sentence for offenders handed the Government's new "indeterminate" jail term was just 30 months.

The statistics discovered that, in England and Wales, 144 of every 100,000 of the population were in custody, with Luxembourg (143) and Spain (142) the only west European countries with similar incarceration rates.

At the end of last year, 224,090 offenders were being supervised by the probation service, a rise of seven per cent over the previous year.