Policy paper

Review into the case of Joseph McCann

Lord Chancellor announces independent review of serious failings in probation supervision of serial sex offender.



On 6 December 2019 Joseph McCann was given 33 life sentences at the Central Criminal Court for a series of violent sexual attacks which he committed between 21 April and 6 May last year. When he started his attacks, McCann was being supervised on licence by the National Probation Service (NPS), having been released from prison automatically on 15 February.

The Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, has today (5 March 2020) asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, to conduct an independent review into the case, which will also consider the wider culture and understanding of recall in probation services.

Alongside this, the Lord Chancellor has also decided, exceptionally, to publish a version of the Serious Further Offence (SFO) review into the case. This review was conducted by the National Probation Service to identify any failings and areas for improvement. SFO reviews are not written for publication, though they are shared with victims if the offender has been convicted. Given the very widespread concern which this case raised, the Lord Chancellor considered that a version of the SFO review should be made public.

Joseph McCann received an indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) for aggravated burglary in 2008 and was released on licence by the Parole Board in 2017. When on licence, offenders must abide by a number of conditions and refrain from committing further offences - otherwise they face being recalled to prison. In the case of an offender serving an IPP, recall would mean that the Parole Board would have to consider any further release of the offender from prison.

Despite committing further offences in August 2017, the review found that McCann was not recalled to prison by probation staff even though there were eight separate occasions in which they considered recall before his automatic release in February 2019.

The review also found there were other issues with the assessment of, planning for and management of risk by probation staff in the NPS South East and Eastern Division.

Publishing that review today, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said:

Each of McCann’s victims suffered a terrifying ordeal and I pay tribute to them for the courage they showed in giving evidence to secure his conviction.

HM Prison and Probation Service has identified unacceptable failings in this case and has rightly apologised to victims for them.

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.

HM Inspectorate of Probation carried out a review of enforcement and recall by the probation services in 2018 and found that the quality of decision-making in the NPS was good. Nonetheless, in light of the failings identified, the National Probation Service has already relaunched the guidance for staff and issued fresh mandatory training on recall.

The number of probation officers in Hertfordshire has increased by nearly 40% since September 2017 and there are now a further 800 probation officers in training nationally.

Published 5 March 2020