Leader comment: Justice system failed murder victim Craig McLelland

Father-of-three Craig McLelland, seen with his partner Stacey, was murdered by a prisoner released on 'home detention' who then went on the run
Father-of-three Craig McLelland, seen with his partner Stacey, was murdered by a prisoner released on 'home detention' who then went on the run
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Craig McLelland was murdered by a prisoner released on ‘home detention’ who then went on the run for months

Community sentences have become accepted as a form of punishment within the Scottish justice system and it is good that prisoners are released gradually back into society, rather than simply ushered out of the gate.

However, the public needs to know that convicts found to have breached the terms of such community sentences are dealt with effectively.

The murder of Craig McLelland in Paisley shows what can happen when things go wrong. His killer, who had previous convictions for knife offences, targeted him, apparently at random, and stabbed him to death out of “blood lust”, according to the judge.

Jamie Wright had been released from prison on “home detention” – described by the Scottish Government yesterday as an “established part” of preparing inmates for their return to society – but after just 11 days, he was ordered back to prison for breaching the terms of his release. Despite this, he then remained unlawfully at large for nearly six months.

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It is unclear exactly why this was allowed to happen; the judge said he was sure questions would be asked but added “I am afraid I have no answers”. The authorities now need to find those answers, and quickly.

Scotland’s most senior police officer recently insisted there was “no crisis” at Police Scotland, but a case like this hardly inspires confidence. And it also raises questions about the decision to release Wright in the first place.

Do the police have enough resources to track down on-the-run prisoners? Are those who decide to release a prisoner on home detention making judgements based on enough information, do they have enough discretion to make sensible decisions? And is, as the Scottish Conservatives suggested, the “SNP’s drive to empty prisons ... letting dangerous offenders off the hook”.

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No one should be in any doubt about the difficulty of making decisions about the release of prisoners, particularly when there is a risk of violence. The people charged with this task will only have the interests of justice and the public at heart. It would be wrong to displace anger that should be directed at the murderer towards them.

But they, the courts, the police and, ultimately, the Scottish Government are responsible for ensuring the justice system does what it was designed to do – keep us safe. And, in the most horrific of ways, that system failed Craig McLelland.