Serial rapist Joseph McCann could have been put back in prison weeks before rampage, report reveals

Justice secretary launches independent review of case to ensure probation service ‘learns lessons’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 05 March 2020 16:37
Serial rapist Joseph McCann given 33 life sentences

A serial rapist who attacked a string of victims aged between 11 and 71 could have been jailed weeks before he started the rampage, a report has revealed.

A review published by the Ministry of Justice found that there were nine occasions where Joseph McCann could have been recalled to prison for breaking his licence conditions.

As well as keeping him inside, the move would have forced the Parole Board to consider the risk he posed and prevented the automatic release of McCann in February 2019.

The most recent missed opportunity was in early April last year, when his offender manager discovered he had not disclosed a new relationship with a woman as required.

He also failed to live at his designated address and abused council staff in Buckinghamshire, which the report said “all constituted clear breaches of his licence conditions”.

On 21 April, McCann abducted a 21-year-old woman as she walked home from a Watford nightclub and raped her in her own home.

He went on to attack 10 other women and children in a campaign of rape and kidnap that spanned London, Hertfordshire and northwest England.

The rampage ended amid a nationwide manhunt last May, which culminated in McCann being arrested after he tried to hide up a tree.

In December, the 34-year-old was handed 33 life sentences by a judge who called for an independent investigation into how the system “failed to protect” his victims.

Revelations that McCann had been under probation supervision at the time sparked the review published on Thursday.

The justice secretary said he had decided to release the document, which would normally be internal, because of the “exceptional” circumstances, and announced a further independent review.

The report showed that McCann had numerous criminal convictions dating back to his youth, including robbery, knife possession, escape from lawful imprisonment, and dangerous driving.

Police held intelligence dating back to 2003 “suggesting McCann might pose a risk of sexual harm and exploitation to teenage girls”, it said.

One of the prisons holding him later expressed concern about “disturbing” letters that “indicated he posed a risk of sexual harm”.

Police footage shows serial rapist Joseph McCann being chased and arrested

McCann’s court case also heard that while he had no convictions of sexual offences, there was a history of violence and threats towards partners.

In 2007, he was handed an indeterminate sentence for public protection after burgling an elderly man and threatening him with a knife.

In March 2017, the Parole Board found him safe for release and directed him to be sent to a probation hostel in the east of England, where the report said he was not properly monitored by his offender managers.

McCann quickly violated his licence conditions by staying with relatives in Manchester, rather than at his approved address, but was not recalled to prison.

He evaded meetings with probation workers until he was arrested for fresh crimes of theft and burglary in August 2017.

The review said several probation officers considered recalling him to prison, which would have meant he had to be considered by the Parole Board again before release, but did not.

While on remand for the new crimes, McCann broke his licence conditions yet again by starting an undisclosed relationship with another woman.

In September 2017, McCann was sentenced to three years and four months by a judge who said it should count as a recall rather than a fresh sentence, and be considered under public protection arrangements.

While he was in prison, the report said there were “numerous further discussions about the possibility of recall”, with prison staff repeatedly raising concerns, but last January a senior probation official decided against it because “it was too late and there was a risk of legal challenge”.

An offender manager failed to have McCann placed in an approved hostel and he moved back in with relatives when he was freed in February 2019.

McCann then committed the string of licence breaches that the report called the “final missed opportunity to recall him” to prison, despite being seen by probation officers 10 times before starting his campaign of rape.

McCann was found guilty at the Old Bailey of 37 counts relating to 11 women and children, including rape, kidnap and false imprisonment

On 23 April, an emergency recall was created after police identified him as the suspect for the Watford rape.

The Ministry of Justice review concluded that risk assessments of McCann were “inadequate” and did not properly consider his risk of sexual harm.

It described the Hertfordshire probation office that handled his second prison sentence as “chaotic”, with temporary staff members being overloaded with complex cases, and a high turnover.

Following numerous warnings over the state of stretched probation services, the review said pressure on staff “impacted their ability to comprehensively review McCann’s historical record” and identify the threat of sexual violence.

But it concluded that the “most significant practice failing was the repeated failure to recall McCann or to reflect critically on earlier decisions not to recall him, in the face of both court and prison staff communicating their concerns”.

“If the probation service had recalled McCann, he would not have been released until the Parole Board was satisfied his release could be managed in the community,” the report said.

Robert Buckland has asked HM chief inspector of probation to conduct an independent review, looking at the management of McCann, action taken and the way prisoners are recalled.

“HM Prison and Probation Service has identified unacceptable failings in this case and has rightly apologised to victims for them,” he added.

“When the chief inspector reports back, I will do whatever is necessary to protect the public. They, and McCann’s victims in particular, deserve no less.”

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said he would look at whether improvements by the National Probation Service were sufficient.

“We will also be undertaking a wider review of the practice and culture within the probation service around recalling offenders to prison,” he added.

“The probation service must learn lessons from this appalling case.”

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