Depraved Joseph McCann wrote a series of sick prison letters saying he wanted ‘clean young girls’ before blundering officials freed him to carry out his horrific rape spree, a report has found.
The 34-year-old serial sex attacker abducted 11 women and children, aged 11 to 71, at knife-point during a two-week cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage across in London, Watford and the North West.
McCann should have been recalled to prison indefinitely after carrying out a burglary while on licence, but was instead given a fixed term and released half-way through without Parole Board involvement. He was then seen by probation officers 10 times in two months following his release, the last in April being days before he carried out the first rape.
A damning report has concluded that he was freed after ‘major failings’ by an ‘unstable’ team of inexperienced probation staff.
McCann was handed 33 life sentences with a minimum term of 30 years in December for the attacks.
But officials were warned years earlier that he bore the hallmarks of a sex offender, with probation officers later missing eight chances to keep him behind bars.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asked Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell to carry out an independent review of the case.
In the first of two reports, Mr Russell said there were ‘major failings’ in the way the case was handled, adding: ‘McCann was managed by an unstable team, lacking experienced and skilled practitioners. They suffered from poor management oversight, high workloads, poor performance and high staff turnover.’
Alan Collins, one of the lawyers representing McCann’s victims, said the report made ‘distressing reading’ and called for dangerous offenders to be ‘red flagged’ across the justice system to make sure such failings never happen again.
McCann – who had a long history of ‘serious offending’ and breaching court orders – saw 10 staff over 11 years, with three different probation officers responsible for his case in the months leading up to his prison release in February 2019.
Mr Russell said: ‘There were signs that he posed an increasing risk to the public. There was evidence of his potential for sexual offending.’
His report sets out a series of troubling findings, including details of ‘graphic’ letters intercepted by prison staff that McCann wrote to relatives in 2009 containing threats of sexual violence and revealing his desire for ‘a clean young girl’ on release from jail.
He even tried to escape from prison that year and was transferred to a high security jail after the attempt was foiled.
Details of police intelligence from 2003, which said McCann and a relative had been involved in the abuse and sexual exploitation of young teenage girls, was discussed at a meeting attended by the offender manager responsible for his case between 2010 and 2013.
Crucial information, recorded on different systems by various authorities, was ‘lost’ in handovers between staff, Mr Russell said.
‘Most worryingly’, prison officers identified in 2013 that McCann – ‘with the collusion of his family – was attempting to find a “young girl” for his release’.
Key failings in the McCann case
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell’s report highlighted a string of troubling findings as he set out the failings in the case of Joseph McCann.
– Details of graphic letters
Mr Russell’s review found during his initial time in jail McCann was considered a ‘high risk of serious harm to family members’ with concerns about domestic abuse and ‘graphic and detailed letters’ written to relatives which had been intercepted by prison officers.
The inspector’s report said: ‘Letters included threats of sexual violence and referred to wanting a “clean young girl” on release.’
McCann was ‘supported’ by other family members who were also making ‘direct threats’ at the time which saw police make efforts to protect the relatives affected.
– Staff focused on burglary
Decisions not to recall McCann to prison were ‘too focused’ on whether he would go on to carry out more burglaries and ‘were not based on an analysis of his patterns of behaviour, including his most recent behaviour on licence’.
According to Mr Russell’s findings, a detailed assessment of his behaviour ‘would have identified that his risk of serious harm had increased, and he should have been recalled.
‘This was poor assessment practice and poor operational decision-making.’
– McCann tried to escape from prison
The report said McCann’s initial behaviour in prison was ‘poor’, adding: ‘He was involved in violence and intimidation, and he failed mandatory drug tests’.
In late 2009 ‘he was transferred to a Category A prison following a planned escape attempt from HMP Wellingborough,’ Mr Russell’s report said.
– Officials underestimated the risk he posed
McCann’s ability to manipulate staff was ‘underestimated’, Mr Russell found, adding: ‘His behaviour and mental health in prison was perceived to improve, based on his immediate presentation.
‘This did not take sufficient account of his previous threatening and violent behaviour.’
Staff failed to order any more mental health assessments after 2014.
After his release from prison in February 2019 McCann was the subject of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) – in which police, probation and prison services work together to assess and monitor violent and sexual offenders to protect the public.
He was initially classed as requiring ‘level 2’ attention, where his case is deemed to require the involvement of several bodies and regular meetings.
But he was downgraded to level one just 12 days after his release, classed as ‘ordinary management’ just by his probation team.
The downgrading took place ‘too soon’, Mr Russell said, saying that a higher level of monitoring was still needed due to his ‘high risk of serious harm’.
– ‘Inadequate’ plan for his release from prison
Another ‘key element’ of planning for such a high risk offender to leave prison was making sure he had suitable accommodation.
He should have been given a bed in a bail hostel, known as approved premises, where he could be monitored by probation after being freed.
But after probation officers twice “tried, and failed” to get him a space he was instead allowed to live with family where he could not be monitored closely, Mr Russell said.
But the ‘key intelligence’ was not passed to probation staff, meaning they did ‘not have a clear picture’ of who they were dealing with and were making decisions based on ‘inadequate’ assessments, Mr Russell said.
McCann’s ability to manipulate staff was ‘underestimated’ and the level of threat he posed to the public was downgraded ‘too soon’ after his prison release, the report added.
An internal Ministry of Justice (MoJ) review published in March laid bare a catalogue of errors in the case after McCann’s sentencing judge described him as a ‘classic psychopath’.
Among 13 recommendations made to prison and probation services, Mr Russell said staff need better access to all relevant records, including historical case files, and urged jails to share information.
He also called for better scrutiny of recall decisions and more beds at bail hostels – known as approved premises – where offenders leaving prison are monitored by probation, which is where McCann should have been housed after release instead of with relatives.
Timeline of Joseph McCann’s rape rampage
Joseph McCann carried out a string of sex attacks on 11 women and children across England barely two months after he was mistakenly released from prison on February 15 last year.
– In the early hours of April 21, he snatched a 21-year-old woman from the street in Watford, drove her to a house and raped her.
– The woman reported the attack to police, McCann’s details were put on the Police National Computer and a prison recall was issued.
– But McCann remained at large and on April 25 he abducted a 25-year-old woman as she walked home in Walthamstow and subjected her to a 14-hour rape ordeal.
– He was still holding her captive when, hours later, he was caught on CCTV bundling another young woman aged 21 into his car in north London, as her sister ran off screaming.
– The two captives escaped outside a Watford hotel, where McCann had booked a room, after the 25-year-old woman hit McCann over the head with a vodka bottle.
– The Metropolitan Police circulated a CCTV image of McCann at the hotel and received a tip-off with his name following a public appeal.
– But on May 5, McCann tricked his way into the home of a woman he met in a bar in Greater Manchester, tied her up and molested her children, aged 17 and 11.
– The teenage girl, who described McCann as ‘evil’, jumped out of a first floor window to alert police.
– As McCann ran out after her, the 11-year-old cut his mother free, saying: ‘Mum, mum, we are safe. (My sister) saved us.’
– Later that day, McCann pounced on a 71-year-old woman loading shopping in her car outside a supermarket.
– He raped her and three hours later he also abducted and assaulted a 13-year-old girl in the same car before they both escaped.
– As police closed in, McCann forced two 14-year-old girls into the car by threatening to “chop them up” with a machete.
– He was captured on CCTV buying condoms at a service station before he was spotted by a patrol car, which gave chase.
– McCann drove the wrong way on a roundabout and crashed into a Mercedes before making off on foot, leaving the ‘terrified’ girls behind.
– Later, he was caught in a taxi at a police road block, but he ran off into a field, having changed into a wet T-shirt snatched from a clothes line.
– A police helicopter finally found him up a tree, he was coaxed down and arrested early on May 6.
The MoJ said McCann’s crimes were ‘horrendous’ and it had already apologised to victims for the ‘unacceptable failings’, adding: ‘We have greatly improved information sharing between prisons and probation officers and all probation staff have received new, mandatory training on when offenders should be recalled.’
An extra 800 probation officers are in training, a spokesman added.
The second part of the review is due to be published in the autumn.
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