Revealed: The Government blunders that left serial rapist Alan Wilmot free to strike again

Exclusive: A warning letter sent to offender by Justice ministry was 'almost inviting him to do a runner', claims a former prisoner

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The Independent Online

A string of serious errors by the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service resulted in a dangerous serial rapist being moved to an open prison only to attack another woman while out on licence, according to a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The litany of failures can now be reported following Alan Wilmot’s conviction for a fifth rape last week. Jailed for life in 1987 for raping four women in west London, he was transferred to an open prison in September 2012 – but then attacked another woman at knifepoint after absconding.

Wilmot’s move to HMP North Sea Camp, an open prison in Lincolnshire, was approved by officials working for Kenneth Clarke, the then Justice Secretary, two months before a High Court judge concluded that he posed “a continuing risk of serious harm to the public”.

In November 2012, Mr Justice King concluded that the Parole Board had ignored key evidence suggesting that the convicted rapist was “not ready for transfer to open conditions”. By this time, Chris Grayling had succeeded Mr Clarke – but the judge was apparently ignored by officials, and Wilmot remained at the open prison.

Less than a year later, he absconded from North Sea Camp and raped a 27-year-old woman at knifepoint.

His trial heard how he travelled to his victim’s home armed with rope and a knife hidden in a rucksack and abused her in front of her friend, whom he had tied up. Wilmot was convicted by a majority of 11-1 and is expected to be sentenced later this month.

After Wilmot was arrested, Mr Grayling ordered an investigation into North Sea Camp and two other prisons where inmates had committed crimes while on temporary licence, saying the incidents had “horrified” him and he was “determined to get to the bottom of what went wrong”.

Nick Hardwick’s report has so far only been published in redacted form in order not to prejudice Wilmot’s trial. It reveals that a series of catastrophic mistakes by officials at North Sea Camp gave Wilmot the freedom to reoffend.

Staff overseeing prisoner releases on licence “failed to analyse” Wilmot’s previous offending properly and did not examine why a previous attempt to house him in an open prison, at HMP Leyhill, had resulted in his being returned to a high-security jail after less than a year, it says.

It adds that Wilmot was allowed out on day release 28 times. Over the summer of 2013, concerns were repeatedly raised about his behaviour, but permission for day release was not withdrawn – as officials wrongly believed he was being monitored by police while he was outside the jail.

The acting governor of the prison finally gave “verbal instructions” for Wilmot to be recalled to a high-security jail on 2 September. But Mr Hardwick’s report states: “This instruction was not formally recorded and was not followed. This was the … clearest missed opportunity to return [Wilmot] to closed conditions.” Less than two weeks later, he had committed his fifth rape while on day release.

One former prisoner who served alongside Wilmot in North Sea Camp, who did not want to be named, said the rapist had received a warning letter from the Ministry of Justice a week before he absconded.

“We all suspected he was going to abscond. The fact that he’d got this warning letter … was almost inviting him to do a runner. That letter was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But amazingly, he was given yet another chance to go out unescorted by prison staff,” he said.

After Wilmot’s trial concluded at Lincoln Crown Court last week, Judge John Pini called for an investigation into the decision to move him to open conditions. “In my view, he is a deeply manipulative prisoner. I am very concerned as to how anybody could ever have thought it was safe to release him,” he said.

The Parole Board had recommended that Wilmot be transferred to an open prison in 2006 and again in 2011, but in each case the serving Justice Secretary – Labour’s Lord Falconer and Mr Clarke, respectively – blocked the move. Wilmot applied for a judicial review of the latter decision, claiming that Mr Clarke had acted “irrationally”.

The judicial review hearing was held in November 2011, and a year later Mr Justice King concluded Mr Clarke had been correct in preventing Wilmot’s move to open prison. But by the time his judgment was handed down, Wilmot had already been transferred. Officials took the view that the judge’s advice was out of date and no longer relevant.

The Government accepted the recommendations about release on temporary licence in Mr Hardwick’s report and has since introduced a more stringent regime in jails. Out of 452,677 temporary release licences issued in 2014, there were 238 recorded failures, the lowest number since 2002.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our sympathies are with the victims of this awful case. The decision to move offenders into open prison is taken ultimately by senior officials within the National Offender Management Service on behalf of the Secretary of State and on the basis of recommendations from the independent Parole Board.”

Timeline: How convicted rapist was allowed to offend again

1987 Alan Wilmot is jailed for life at the Old Bailey in London after raping  four women in a series of brutal attacks.

November 2004 Transferred to open prison at HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire.

August 2005 Returned to closed prison due to concerns about his behaviour.

July 2006 Parole Board recommends he is transferred to open prison again. Permission is refused by Labour’s Lord Falconer, the then Justice Secretary.

February 2011 Parole Board makes similar recommendation. Permission is again turned down, this time by the Tory Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke.

25 November Judicial review hearing is held at High Court into Mr Clarke’s decision to overrule Parole Board and refuse Wilmot a transfer.

May 2012 Parole Board again recommends that he is transferred to open prison. Some time between now and September, this is accepted by the Ministry of Justice, despite the ongoing judicial review.

4 September Chris Grayling succeeds Mr Clarke as  Justice Secretary.

13 September Wilmot arrives at HMP North Sea Camp  in Lincolnshire.

9 November Mr Justice King rules that Mr Clarke was correct to overrule the Parole Board in Wilmot’s case, saying that he posed a “continuing risk of serious harm to the public”. Yet Wilmot remains in an  open prison.

March 2013 Wilmot approved for day release by staff at North Sea Camp.

June Concerns raised about his behaviour.

2 September Acting governor gives “verbal instructions” for him to be moved back to a closed prison. They are  not followed.

15 September Wilmot absconds from prison while on day release and rapes a  27-year-old woman in her home at knifepoint, forcing her friend to watch.

June 2015 Wilmot convicted by jury.