Probation service 'failed' over murdered taxi driver

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The Independent Online

The widow of a murdered taxi driver said today that the probation service had "utterly failed" her family after a violent criminal released early from prison was left free to kill.

Mother-of-two Kelly Winstone, 28, from Longwell Green, Bristol, said that mistakes by probation officers had cost her husband Colin his life.

Home Secretary John Reid has ordered an urgent review of procedures at two bail hostels in the city after an undercover BBC documentary revealed a series of flaws in the system.

The BBC's Panorama investigation filmed a convicted paedophile and child killer staying at the same premises in Bristol befriending children.

Meanwhile, another paedophile was seen taking pictures in a busy shopping centre and loitering around public toilets.

One of the most damaging allegations, however, centres on the supervision of Davidson Charles, a career criminal who went on to murder Colin Winstone just weeks after being released from prison.

Charles, 41, had been staying at a bail hostel in Brigstocke Road, Bristol, when he stabbed the popular cabbie through the heart in a bungled robbery in January last year.

Undercover Panorama reporters recorded staff at the hostel claiming that they warned the probation service about him re-offending, but nothing was done.

One staff member was recorded saying: "That taxi driver should never have been killed ... We provided his probation officer with enough evidence to recall him."

Mrs Winstone described the claims aired in the documentary as "heartbreaking", and said it was clear that probation officers had failed her husband.

"It's absolutely disgusting. It's another one who's been allowed to slip through the net.

"He should never have been released early in the first place. He was a career criminal, a ticking time-bomb. He was clearly dangerous, but he was allowed to roam the streets.

"He was free to kill my husband. Their mistakes cost him his life. There were warnings about his behaviour but no-one did anything about it."

Charles had served just half of a four year sentence for robbery when he murdered the popular cabbie in the Easton area of the city.

He had been released on licence in November 2004, just seven weeks before he attacked the 44-year-old to fund his drug addiction.

The programme claims that Charles was supposed to be under monitoring and supervision at the hostel when he murdered Mr Winstone. He was later jailed for life.

"He should never have been freed so early," Mrs Winstone said.

"If he was still inside he would never have killed Colin."

Mrs Winstone, who lives with her two children, Grace, five, and Kieran, eight, said she hoped lessons would be learnt from her husband's death.

"But it's going to be too late for us now. They made mistakes and it cost a life. Sorry just isn't good enough. I've lost my husband and the children have lost their father."

Another resident of the same hostel, a paedophile convicted of killing a child, was filmed by Panorama repeatedly returning to flats where he had befriended a group of young mothers and their children.

Programme makers said they called the police about his activities, but the probation service was not informed.

Panorama said that another offender, James Long, jailed in February this year for the murder of 45-year-old Scott Marshall, had been a resident of Ashley House, a second bail hostel, when he carried out the killing.

Mr Marshall's three-year-old son Abraham was left in a flat with his body for three days before friends and family became concerned, and he was found.

Other residents of Ashley House are seen in the programme going out while on heroin and stealing around town to fund their habits.

The Home Secretary John Reid said he had ordered an investigation into the apparent lack of supervision at the two hostels.

Mr Reid said: "I have asked Andrew Bridges, the Chief Inspector of Probation, to urgently review whether there is a case for an investigation of the management and operation of the approved premises mentioned by the programme."

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) has claimed that the service is "working better than ever at all levels".

But Harry Fletcher, the organisation's general secretary, has admitted that they cannot offer a 24-hour surveillance of those offenders considered to be dangerous.

"The Home Secretary needs to look at why, if prisoners are deemed dangerous or are a risk to the public, they are being released in the first place.

"Hostels are not, and cannot legally be, prisons. The majority of residents are ex-prisoners, and nearly half are convicted sex offenders.

"All residents must observe hostel rules, such as a night-time curfew and a ban on drugs and alcohol. Any individual who breaches these rules risks being returned to custody.

"The Panorama programme does not criticise probation practice. If the Home Secretary wants more intensive supervision then he must supply considerable numbers of additional trained and experienced staff."