The Probation Service is undertaking an internal review after a “horrifying case” where a criminal under its supervision stole a lorry and was involved with crashing into and killing a grandmother in a Yorkshire village before the vehicle ploughed into the side of a house.
David Mellor was jailed at Sheffield Crown Court in February alongside three other men over the death of 58-year-old Jacqueline Wileman in the village of Brierley, near Barnsley on September 14 last year.
Her brother Johnny Wood said today Mellor, who was a passenger in the vehicle when it hit his sister, had set off the chain of events that led to her death through the theft of the lorry and that questions needed to be answered over whether the incident could have been prevented.
“I believe that if the Probation Service had done their job, Jackie would still be here,” he said.
Mellor was jailed for 13 years after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving following a two-week trial and also pleading guilty of aggravated vehicle taking. He was also resentenced for three months for a previous burglary to run concurrently with his main sentence.
The 48-year-old HGV driver, from Worsbrough, Barnsley, had stolen one of his employer’s vehicles on September 12 last year and two days later went on a “joy ride” in the vehicle with three other men. The group were observed by witnesses “laughing” as the vehicle was driven dangerously around the Barnsley area and after the driver Karn Hill lost control while going almost twice the 30mph speed limit, hit and killed Mrs Wileman while she was out doing her daily hobby of power-walking from her home in nearby Grimethorpe. Mellor and two of the other men ran from the scene but were subsequently arrested.
Sheffield Crown Court heard Mellor had “previous convictions of a considerable number”, including for dangerous driving.
The review has been ordered by the Probation Service as part of a standard procedure where any serious offence committed by someone monitored by the organisation is subject to what is known as a ‘Serious Further Offence Review’. In 2017/18 alone, 627 supervised offenders were charged with a violent or sexual offence that had been committed while they were back out in the community under supervision.
The case involving Mrs Wileman was raised in Parliament on Tuesday by Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock, who said: “All four men had existing criminal records, with nearly 100 convictions between them. They had several convictions for driving offences, and one had already been sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving. Two of the men had recently finished probation supervision, and the one who stole the lorry had no driving licence and was, staggeringly, on probation at the time. It can be argued that these men should not have been on the streets and able to commit these tragic crimes in the first place.
“I await the results of the internal review into what more could have been done by the probation service in the case of Jackie Wileman and what lessons can be learned.”
Justice Minister Robert Buckland said: “The Hon Member for Barnsley East raised a horrifying case, and I reassure her that a serious further offence review is under way.”
It comes after a coroner last month highlighted “missed opportunities” by the Probation Service to prevent the death of property developer John Gogarty, who was stabbed to death in his own home in Wombwell, near Barnsley, in 2015 by a convicted killer called Ian Birley who was out of jail on licence for a previous murder.
Mr Wood said Mrs Wileman’s family felt they had been “failed” by the justice system for several reasons, including a lack of police officers to look for the stolen vehicle over the two days it was missing before the crash, as well as the sentences handed to the men which were restricted to a 14-year maximum sentence. In late 2017, the Government committed to introducing life sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving but no legislation to make this the law has yet been passed.
“In my opinion, the justice system all the way through in our case has let us as a family down,” he said.
A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee found controversial probation reforms have left the system for supervising tens of thousands of criminals in a worse position than before the shake-up introduced by then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
Under a programme known as Transforming Rehabilitation, 35 probation trusts were replaced in 2014 by the public-sector National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 privately-owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).
High-risk cases are managed by the NPS, with all other work assigned to CRCs.
The report cited figures showing that, from 2011 to March 2017, the average number of re-offences per re-offender increased by 22 per cent.
Separately an inspection of the South Yorkshire CRC, run by private firm Sodexo, published in March found it required improvement with “the large majority of probation staff not qualified and many not sufficiently experienced at managing risk of harm to others”. The review said workers had an average caseload of 52 people each.
Ms Peacock told Parliament: “This is a probation service, the effectiveness of which is crucial to maintaining the safety of my community, explicitly failing to manage risk of harm to others. It is a shocking state of affairs, yet a product of decisions made by this Government. Simply put, the safety of our communities and constituents has been jeopardised.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This was a deeply tragic case and our sympathies are with Mrs Wileman’s family.
“Killer drivers ruin lives which is why we intend to give courts the power to hand down life sentences for death by dangerous driving - sending a clear message to those who drive irresponsibly. We will bring forward proposals for changes in the law when parliamentary time allows.”