The widow of a man murdered by a convict on day release says her husband could still be alive had prison protocols been more robust.
Karen Buck’s husband Graham, 66, was killed as he came to the aid of a neighbour near his home in Nettleden Road, Little Gaddesden in July 2013.
Karen, 57, has responded to an inquiry into the failures which allowed his killer – as well as two other prisoners from jails around the country – to commit further offences while on temporary licence in the community.
Ruthless Ian McLoughlin – who killed twice before – had intended to rob the home of convicted paedophile Francis Cory-Wright when selfless Graham intervened.
McLoughlin was on day release from Spring Hill prison in Grendon Underwood, Bucks, at the time of the brutal attack which left grandfather Graham dead.
The report, published on Monday by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, admits the decision to release McLoughlin from the prison had ‘catastrophic consequences’. While it reports McLoughlin’s behaviour across the 21 years he had spent in prison for previous killings had been ‘generally good’ and he had a ‘good work ethic’, he had breached open conditions on two occasions, including failing to return from day release at Spring Hill in 2011.
The safety and well-being of the people that every organisation has a duty to protect should be their number one priority. Achieving this is not cheap, but neither are the costs of getting it wrongKaren Buck
A number of failings were identified in the report, including that monitored phone calls by McLoughlin revealed an intention to meet with Cory-Wright, and that planned town visits on weekly weekend occasions were ‘completely unstructured’ under prison resettlement programmes.
It was also revealed McLoughlin’s offender manager had been replaced just four months previously and he had not met with the replacement prior to his release on temporary licence being approved, causing key issues around preparations and risk assessments for day release to be ‘blurred’.
The inquiry also found that McLoughlin’s assessment for temporary licence failed to sufficiently analyse the risks associated with his previous breaches and convictions, and that it was not appropriate to have allowed him on such a lengthy, unaccompanied, unstructured and unmonitored release.
His grieving wife Karen said: “Policies are just words on pieces of paper, unless those to whom they apply adhere to them.
“Human beings when under pressure to achieve objectives without the necessary resources and leadership to support and guide them, will find their own ways of coping with the challenges they face.
“Cost is often cited as a reason for the lack of resources, but the costs incurred as a result of the errors made in 2013 have run into many millions of pounds – money which could have been spent on ensuring the release on temporary licence system was more efficiently and effectively run.
“Had this been the case, my husband might still be alive today and I cannot put a price on that.
“The safety and well-being of the people that every organisation has a duty to protect should be their number one priority. Achieving this is not cheap, but neither are the costs of getting it wrong.”
Since Graham’s death, the law has been changed to stop prisoners from automatically qualifying for the right to day release.
Convicts will only be let out for a specific purpose, such as work experience, after they have earned the privilege through good behaviour.
Police and crime commissioner for Herts David Lloyd said: “The Graham Buck case was an awful tragedy that stunned and shocked so many of us.
“The issue of day release, when properly overseen by probation, could and should be a normal part of bringing people back into society.
“There are some people who need do need to come back into society, but clearly Graham’s killer was not one of them.
“We need to have the right support for people that have been in prison so they can get back into society, but there will always be risks in letting people out.
“I want to pay tribute to people like Graham who were trying to do the right thing and lost their lives doing so.
“I feel incredibly sad and powerless because we can’t change what happened, but we need to make sure we learn from it.”
Karen likened coping without Graham to walking on a tightrope, saying: “On a good day, the tightrope is resting on the ground and I feel like my feet are on terra firma.
“On bad days it is very high, and if something knocks you off – you never know what that will be – then you go into a black bottomless pit and you just keep falling.
“I know now that once I hit the bottom I can get back up to that tightrope. It is a very, very difficult place to be, but I am fortunate in that I have got good people supporting me.”
She says she has received help and support from many sources including HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ chief inspector Nick Hardwick, and has made efforts to understand the prison systems at work so that similar instances cannot happen again.
Further recommendations made in the report include a review of staffing levels in open prisons, and ensuring workers are adequately skilled in identifying and managing the risks posed by prisoners presenting a significant risk of harm.
The inquiry also states day release should not be seen as an automatic entitlement and must always be structured, planned and supported by a comprehensive risk management plan.