The family of a teenager murdered by her ex-boyfriend have called for exclusion zones for offenders and changes to the parole system as part of a campaign to strengthen the rights of victims.
Michelle Stewart, 17, was stabbed to death in the street in Drongan, Ayrshire, by John Wilson in 2008.
Wilson, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in April 2009, has been deemed eligible for temporary release despite only serving nine years behind bars. Ahead of a meeting with justice secretary Humza Yousaf today, the Stewarts called for a series of measures to improve the rights of victims and their families.
They include the increased use of powers to impose exclusion zones on offenders and changes to the parole system to allow victims and their families to be given reasons for an offender’s release and to make representations in person.
The campaign for a so-called Michelle’s Law was launched after the family received a letter informing them Wilson had been approved for temporary release, allowing him unescorted access to the community.
Lisa Stewart said: “My sister was taken from us when she was only 17 years old in a savage, premeditated attack. The original sentence was not nearly long enough and now we face, just nine years on, the prospect of seeing my sister’s killer on the street, on the bus or in the shops. It is unbelievably painful.
“Other families have also contacted me, telling me of their terror at facing their loved one’s attacker and that there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
“That isn’t right and that’s why we are launching this campaign. We are victims too and our voices must be heard.”
Under temporary release, an offender can be allowed out of prison on unescorted day release or on home leave for a period of eight days.
The Stewarts have complained of having had little input into the release process and have been unable to restrict Wilson’s relocation zone to exclude their local area.
A petition calling for Wilson to be prevented from spending time in Ayrshire following his release has received more than 4,000 signatures.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, said: “The tragedy of Michelle’s death has only been compounded by the lack of consideration given to them by the system.
“I am so truly sorry that the Stewarts have had to endure this ordeal, but hopefully we can learn from their experiences and reform parole and early release so that victims and their families are given a proper voice throughout this process.”
Under the Management of Offenders Bill – legislation making its way through the Scottish Parliament – increased electronic monitoring of offenders would allow for exclusion areas.
Mr Yousaf welcomed the opportunity to speak to the Stewart family, saying: “I fully understand the concerns that the family have and want to reassure them that I will keep an open mind on any proposals that come forward.
“I have said before that a priority for me is to ensure the voices of victims are heard in the justice system.”