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Rise in deaths of offenders on probation since reforms

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The number of people dying while on probation in England and Wales has risen by almost a third in three years, analysis of official figures shows.

Campaign groups said there had been “institutional indifference” towards offenders released from custody.

A social worker said her job had become “a treadmill of bureaucracy”.

The Ministry of Justice said a “great deal of caution was needed when trying to draw conclusions” from its figures.

The BBC’s Shared Data Unit analysed Ministry of Justice data from 2015-16 to 2017-18.

It found:

  • Last year 966 deaths of ex-prisoners were recorded, compared to 752 in 2015-16
  • About one in three of those deaths were self-inflicted
  • In 2014-15, there were 558 deaths, but that woas before 40,000 extra offenders were brought under supervision following government reforms

‘I’d like to see offenders treated as whole people’

Caspar Capel was 43 when he took his own life while a resident at an Approved Premises, formerly known as bail hostels.

He had borderline personality disorder and was troubled with depression and alcoholism for most of his adult life, contributing to many suicide attempts.

Weeks before his death, Mr Capel had spent several months on remand waiting for sentencing after exposing himself to a train conductor while drunk.

His mother Sue, said he had “no opportunities” for rehabilitation whilst on remand and kept a journal detailing how he wanted to kill himself.

She said: “I’d like to see offenders treated as whole people with a combination of problems which have led to the offending, and for the offence to be seen in the context of that person’s history and mental health problems.

“Caspar wasn’t offending because he wanted to gain anything from it, he wasn’t aware he was offending, I’m sure. But he was very sad and angry – not caused by the drink, but exacerbated by it.”

A review by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman concluded there was nothing staff could have done to prevent Mr Capel’s death, but acknowledged his complex history of mental health problems and alcohol misuse.

Private sector reforms

The arrangements for managing offenders were overhauled in 2014, with the probation service split in two.

A new state body, the National Probation Service (NPS), which has eight divisions, was set up to supervise high-risk offenders, with 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) supervising low and medium-risk offenders.

In March, the chief inspector of probation said the new system was “irredeemably flawed”.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said homelessness, cuts to the voluntary sector and the spread of drugs such as Spice may have contributed to the rise in deaths.

She added: “Whereas before we had a successful publicly-run probation service with qualified and trained staff who saw their mission as befriending and turning lives around, we now have a fragmented service with a tick-box culture where some people have not even met face-to-face.”

One offender manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “When you lose a service user it has a massive emotional impact on you.

“Officers, when they know someone is quite vulnerable, will go above and beyond to try and mitigate some of that risk, but then there’s frustration felt when services are in a similar boat to us and can’t commit the time some of these service users need.”

Scotland and Northern Ireland

In Scotland, the work of the probation service is devolved to local authorities’ social work departments, which are not required to record a cause of death for offenders under their care.

Figures for 27 out of 32 councils that responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request, show there were 556 recorded deaths across Scottish councils since 2014-15.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The death of any individual, no matter what the circumstances, while on release under supervision or licence, is regrettable, and our sympathies go to their family and friends.”

Similar records from the Probation Board for Northern Ireland began in November 2016 and show a rise in deaths from 14 to 21 since then.

The Ministry of Justice said it was investing £22m to support offenders upon release.

A spokesman said: “Our probation reforms were a positive change for public safety, extending supervision and support to approximately 40,000 extra offenders each year – nearly 20% more than in 2014.

“This significant increase in volume, along with the rising age of offenders and improved recording practices, means a great deal of caution is needed when trying to draw conclusions from this data.”

A programme to improve access to health services for vulnerable offenders with mental health, alcohol and substance abuse issues has also been launched.

Dr Jake Phillips, senior criminology lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said national records of deaths under probation had improved since he first began researching the subject nearly a decade ago.

He said: “There’s a fairly strong argument for saying we know a lot about why people kill themselves in prison, for example, because there’s been learning taking place for the last 20 years or so, from a range of angles. Under probation supervision, we just don’t know that.”

Rebecca Roberts, head of policy at Inquest, said: “There’s been complete institutional indifference towards the lives and deaths of people following release from custody and a total lack of visibility and investigation.

“Deaths have been rising year after year and we need more scrutiny on why this is, and what can be done to prevent these deaths in future.”

More about this story

The Shared Data Unit makes data journalism available to news organisations across the media industry, as part of a partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association. This piece of content was produced by a local newspaper journalist working alongside BBC staff.

For more information on methodology, click here. For the full dataset, click here. Read more about the Local News Partnerships here.

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Valerie Graves: Murder-accused Cristian Sabou appears in court

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A man accused of murdering a woman found bludgeoned to death in her bed almost six years ago has appeared in court.

Valerie Graves, 55, was found dead at a property in Smugglers Lane, Bosham, West Sussex, on 30 December 2013.

Cristian Sabou, 27, was charged with her murder after being extradited from Dej, north-west Romania, last week.

He did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody after a hearing at Lewes Crown Court.

Ms Graves, an artist, was house-sitting with her mother at the £1.6m seaside property when she was killed.

A post-mortem examination found she had died from severe head injuries after being hit with a claw hammer.

Mr Sabou is next due to appear at Lewes Crown Court on 30 September.

Judge Katherine Laing QC scheduled a provisional trial date of 6 January and told Mr Sabou he would be expected to enter a plea at his next hearing.

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Murder charge after woman found strangled in Bexhill flat

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A man has been charged with murdering a woman who was found strangled in a flat in East Sussex.

Kayleigh Hanks, 29, was found after police were called to a disturbance at a flat in London Road, Bexhill at about 00:30 BST on Sunday.

Ian Paton, 36, of Snowdrop Rise, St Leonards, has been charged with her murder and is due to appear at Brighton Magistrates’ Court later.

Both people were known to each other, a Sussex Police spokesman said.

A post-mortem examination carried out on Monday confirmed Ms Hanks had died as a result of strangulation.

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Heatwave: How to keep cool and carry on in 35C

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With a heatwave predicted to bring temperatures above 35C to parts of the UK over the next few days, how can the nation keep cool and carry on?

Do I have to work during a heatwave?

For those hoping to be given a day off, unfortunately, there are currently no laws in the UK about when it is too hot to work.

Employers should provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says a limit cannot be introduced because some industries have to work in high temperatures.

It can, however, be too cold to work. Government guidance recommends a minimum working temperature of 16C (61F), or 13C, if employees are doing physical work.

As avoiding work in the heat isn’t an option, then there’s the inevitable dilemma of what to wear.

But can you wear flip-flops to work? Read what the experts have to say.

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How do you sleep?

That’s the million dollar question. On sticky nights, drifting off can seem impossible.

A big part of the problem is humidity, which makes it hard for sweat to evaporate.

To try and keep your bedroom as cool as possible, shut your blinds or curtains during the day – although doing so with metallic blinds and dark curtains could make the room hotter.

You could also open windows on the shady side of your home and close them on the sunny side – and then open all the windows before going to bed to get a through breeze.

That’s not an option open to everyone, so an electric fan can be a handy substitute.

A fan will help move the air around your body and increase the chance of sweat evaporating.

Other recommendations include:

  • Putting reflective material or shades outside bedroom windows
  • Having a lukewarm shower before bed
  • Using thin cotton sheets
  • Wearing lightweight materials for bed as they can keep you cooler – as can sleeping naked and avoiding sharing space with partners
  • Putting your sheets in the freezer for a spell before you go to bed

When it comes to children, the NHS says a cool bath before bedtime can help.

Pyjamas and bedclothes should be kept to a minimum, and if a baby kicks off its bedcovers during the night then they could sleep in just a nappy – babies sleep most comfortably when their room is between 16C (61F) and 20C (68F).

What should you wear?

Dressing for the weather may sound obvious, but clothes can make a real difference to how our bodies handle heat.

As tempting as it might be to strip off, you may be at greater risk of sunburn which can affect your body’s ability to cool itself.

It’s best to choose light colours over dark – which can attract and retain heat – and loose garments that can allow air to get in.

Hats with ventilation will also help and fabric choice is key – materials like cotton and linen are more breathable, absorbing sweat and encouraging ventilation.

Any advice on what to eat and drink?

Hydration is key. Our bodies sweat more in hot weather, so it is really important to restock lost water levels.

Don’t rely on your physical thirst to judge how dehydrated you are as it’s not a very good indicator (urine colour is better), so you should try to drink plenty before you feel parched.

And try not to consume too much alcohol. The NHS says good drink options include water, lower-fat milks and tea and coffee.

Foods with high water content such as strawberries, cucumber, courgette, lettuce, celery and melon can also help you stay hydrated.

Try to avoid large, heavy meals laden with carbohydrates and protein because they take more digesting, which in turn produces more body heat.

Although it may not be what you fancy on sweaty days, scientific research suggests spicy and hot foods can actually help cool you down.

How do you keep babies cool?

As if you don’t have enough to think about with a baby, a heatwave brings an added risk of dehydration, sunburn and sunstroke.

The NHS recommends keeping all babies under six months out of direct sunlight, and older infants should be kept out of the sun as much as possible, particularly between 11:00 and 15:00.

They should be kept in the shade or under a sunshade if they’re in a buggy or pushchair.

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Sun cream with a high sun protection factor should be applied regularly – particularly if children are in water.

All children should be given plenty of fluids and the NHS says babies who are being breastfed may want to feed more than usual, but will not need water as well as breast milk.

If they are bottle feeding, babies can be given cooled boiled water as well as their usual milk feeds.

What about pets?

Dogs in particular struggle in the hot weather because they are not able to cool down through sweating, as humans do, and those breeds with long coats are especially prone to overheating.

The RSPCA has a series of tips for keeping animals safe and comfortable during the heatwave.

These include avoiding leaving animals in hot cars, conservatories, outbuildings or caravans, which, even just for a short while, can be fatal due to rising temperatures.

It also says it is best to walk a dog early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler, as paws can burn on a hot pavement. Exercise can also increase the risk of heatstroke.

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For those pets kept in cages, hutches, fish tanks or other enclosures, they should be kept out of direct sunlight.

And it’s not just humans who need sun cream, it might also be beneficial to apply some to your pet.

Animals’ exposed spots, such as ears and noses, are vulnerable to sunburn and – just like people – sun damage can lead to skin cancer.

The Blue Cross say white cats are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer from sunlight exposure than others.

What are symptoms of heatstroke?

Most people in the UK aren’t used to such extreme temperatures, which can cause heat exhaustion and, more seriously, heatstroke.

Signs of heat exhaustion can include tiredness or weakness, feeling faint or dizzy, having muscle cramps or feeling sick. If left untreated, the more serious symptoms of heatstroke can develop, including confusion, disorientation and even a loss of consciousness.

Those suffering the signs of heat exhaustion should go to a cool place with air conditioning or shade, use a cool, wet sponge or flannel and drink fluids – ideally water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink.

Those most vulnerable include the elderly, people with conditions such as diabetes, young children and people working or exercising outdoors.

Can I exercise during a heatwave?

If you choose to exercise, listen to your body – it will be under greater strain than in usual conditions so your usual limits may be different.

Aim to do it when the weather is at its coolest: early or late in the day.

If you do intensive exercise, drink lots of water. Isotonic sports drinks can also help ensure you are rehydrating properly.

Cold showers and blotting with damp, cold materials can also work wonders.

In general, stay in the shade or in air-conditioned places as much as possible, especially at the hottest part of the day.

How long does it take to burn?

The risk of sunburn depends on how sensitive your skin is, and how strong the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are.

The UV index will vary, depending on where you are in the world, the time of year, what the weather is like, the time of day, and how high up you are compared to sea level.

During the UK’s summer months, the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 11:00 and 15:00.

Cancer Research UK suggests using a simple “shadow rule” to estimate the strength of the sun.

It suggests that if your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s UV rays are strong – and you are therefore more likely to burn.

How often should you reapply sun cream?

There are lots of “extended wear” sunscreens on the market that advertise themselves as being for use “once a day”, or claiming to last for eight hours.

But dermatologists recommend that these products should still be applied at least every two hours, like any other sunscreen, since the risk that you may have missed a spot – or that it will rub or wash off in that time – are too high.

The British Association of Dermatologists says sunscreen with SPF 30 is a “satisfactory form of sun protection in addition to protective shade and clothing” and that it should be reapplied at least every two hours, no matter what SPF it is.

There are lots of places that rate sunscreen brands, including consumer website Which?.

However, the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) says in general you should look for two ratings on bottles of sun creams.

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays – UVA (most commonly responsible for premature ageing and wrinkles) and UVB (which causes most sunburn).

The BAD says you need to be protected from both.

The sun protection factor (SPF) offers guidance on a cream’s protection against UVB rays, while a star system indicates the level of protection against UVA rays.

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