Failure to address ‘ludicrous’ injustice of indefinite jail terms is ‘political cowardice’, peer warns

Exclusive: Baroness Claire Fox warns leaders are ‘running scared’ from helping thousands trapped under abolished IPP sentences

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Friday 19 April 2024 17:19 BST
Revealed: 16 years in jail for stealing a bike and no hope of release

MPs have been accused of “political cowardice” for failing to back the resentencing of thousands of prisoners trapped under abolished indefinite jail terms.

Baroness Claire Fox, who is backing a series of amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill to help Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) inmates, has called for action, warning: “We shouldn’t wait until there’s an ITV drama before the injustice is dealt with.”

Controversial IPP sentences – in which offenders were handed minimum jail terms but no maximum - were scrapped in 2012 amid human rights concerns, but not for those already sentenced, leaving thousands languishing in jail for years beyond their original prison terms.

They include tragic cases highlighted by The Independent such as those of Wayne Bell, who has served more than 16 years for stealing a bike; Thomas White, who is still in prison 11 years after he stole a mobile phone; and Aaron Graham, who has served almost 20 years after he punched a man in a fight.

Of almost 3,000 IPP inmates currently trapped in prison with no release date, 700 have already served at least 10 years longer than their minimum tariff.

Despite a “worrying rise” in rates of suicide as prisoners lose hope, the government has repeatedly refused recommendations made by the justice committee to carry out a resentencing exercise amid fears it could lead to potentially dangerous offenders being released.

However Baroness Fox, a life peer, has said: “No government can escape this. They will have to resentence IPP prisoners. Somebody will have to do it.”

Baroness Claire Fox
Baroness Claire Fox (Supplied)

Her comments come ahead of a crunch vote in the House of Lords on a range of measures to help improve outcomes IPP prisoners, tabled as amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

The reforms have been backed by a coalition of experts in mental health, human rights and criminal justice as well as a cross-party group of peers – including David Blunkett, who admits he regrets introducing the IPP sentence as home secretary in 2005.

However her own amendment - calling once again for a resentencing exercise - has been dropped due to lack of support, including from Labour’s front benches.

She told The Independent: “We are in this ludicrous situation where everybody on all sides politically now concedes that this sentence was the wrong decision.

“But arguments used to bring in IPPs in the first place are redeployed against resentencing.”

Baroness Fox said leaders are “running scared” from embracing resentencing amid fears of a backlash should a released inmate go on to commit another crime.

However, she believes this is an underestimation of the British public, who have a strong sense of justice and decency, while any resentencing process would have “ample flexibility” to navigate higher-risk cases.

Calls for action to action to address scandal of IPP sentences
Calls for action to action to address scandal of IPP sentences (Getty/iStockphoto/PA)

Currently, IPP prisoners must prove to a parole board they are safe to be released into the community before they can be freed.

They are then subject to strict 10-year licence conditions, although justice secretary Alex Chalk last year announced proposals to reduce this period to three years.

Baroness Fox said the issue of “dangerousness” is weaponised against IPP prisoners while those sentenced to determinate jail terms are released every day of the week.

This creates a situation whereby a rapist can be sentenced and released, she said, while an IPP prisoner in the cell next door is “still sitting there trying to prove that they are not dangerous”.

“No one is saying these prisoners are angels, but that shouldn’t be the point because that’s not the basis on which we have a legal system,” she added.

More than 80 IPP prisoners are known to have taken their own lives in prison as many lose hope of being freed – including seven whose self-inflicted deaths were revealed by The Independent last year.

Meanwhile, those serving IPPs in the community say they are stuck in a recall ‘merry-go-round’ in which they can be hauled back to prison indefinitely for minor breaches.

“It creates a system whereby the state is keeping people in prison but not for any crime,” Baroness Fox told The Independent.

“Resentencing is a way to deal with this once and for all and stop kicking the ball into the long grass. It really is political cowardice.”

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (Lucy North/PA)
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk (Lucy North/PA) (PA Archive)

She noted the crisis has some “parallels” with the Post Office scandal, adding: “I think more and more people are becoming aware of the situation and when people hear about it people are genuinely shocked.

“We shouldn’t wait until there’s an ITV drama before the injustice is dealt with.”

In February, The Independent revealed a coalition of campaigners were supporting a range of IPP reforms tabled by peers, including further easing of the strict licence conditions.

Campaigners included the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, Amnesty International, Justice, Liberty, the United Group for Reform of IPP, the Probation Institute, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Inquest, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the Prison Reform Trust.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have reduced the number of unreleased IPP prisoners by three-quarters since we scrapped the sentence in 2012, with a 12% fall in the last year alone where the Parole Board deemed prisoners safe to release.

“But public protection will always remain our top priority. This is why we have decided not to retrospectively change sentences for IPP offenders, who in some cases would be released without supervision despite committing serious sexual or violent offences.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call or text 988, or visit to access online chat from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.If you are in another country, you can go to to find a helpline near you.

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