Yvette Cooper has demanded an urgent review into the “disturbing and incomprehensible” decision to release a former police officer jailed for raping and sexually assaulting vulnerable women just seven years into a double life sentence.
The chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee made the call after it emerged over the weekend that Stephen Mitchell, who was warned he posed such a danger to women he may well spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, had in fact been allowed out following a decision by the Parole Board.
Mr Justice Wilkie said the Northumbria Police constable was a “ruthless sexual predator” when jailing him at Newcastle Crown Court in January 2011.
Mitchell, who was 42 when he was jailed, preyed on women he met while on duty from his base at Pilgrim Street police station in Newcastle.
Originally from Glasgow, he raped and sexually abused heroin addicts, shoplifters and a disabled teenager by offering them help while in custody, then demanding sexual favours afterwards.
He told one of his victims that if she complained, “no one would believe a junkie”.
Sentencing him at Newcastle Crown Court, the judge said: “So cowed and downtrodden by their experiences of life and by your influence were those seven women that they did not report what you had done until they were given the opportunity to do so by the police investigation into your activities years later.”
He ordered Mitchell should serve at least seven-and-a-half years in jail before being considered for parole, adding: “Thereafter, you will only be released, if at all, if the parole board has concluded it is safe and in the public interest for you to be released on public licence.
“That may not be for many years, if for ever.”
Ms Cooper called for an update from the justice secretary, David Gauke, on the order to grant Mitchell parole.
“This case is disturbing and incomprehensible,” she said.
“For someone who has committed such appalling crimes and been told that they may not be released for many years, if ever, to then be subject to release on parole after only seven-and-a-half years is just impossible to understand.
“We urgently need to know what the Parole Board’s reasons were because to most people this really does not look like justice for victims.”
The Labour MP also pointed to the recent controversy surrounding the release of another serial sex offender, John Worboys.
Ms Cooper said: “The justice secretary also needs to tell us urgently what progress he has made since the decision on John Worboys to stop the same things happening all over again.
“It shouldn’t be left to victims to take legal action to get answers about why someone is being released or to stop serious and dangerous criminals being released early.”
Rape Crisis England and Wales described the case as “deeply disturbing” and said it highlights “the urgent need for greater clarity around Parole Board decision making”.
Discussing victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system in a statement, the organisation added: “The criminal justice process takes too long, can be re-traumatising, and sometimes, as this case highlights, even when a dangerous, serial offender is convicted, measures taken to minimise the potential harm they can cause seem severely inadequate.”
The former soldier, who resigned from Northumbria Police, was nicknamed “PC Cucumber” by investigating officers for his cold, callous demeanour.
After the case, Northumbria Police apologised for Mitchell’s “evil” actions.
The force admitted serious failings had allowed him to attack drug addicts and shoplifters after arresting them.
Additional reporting by Press Association