Violent offenders and those with a history of knife crime will no longer be able to serve part of their sentence at home on an electronic tag after a catalogue of failures led to the murder of a man in an unprovoked street attack.
Craig McClelland, 31, pictured, was stabbed to death in Paisley last year by James Wright, who had been “unlawfully at large” for five months.
Wright– who had 16 previous convictions, including two for knife crimes – had breached the terms of a home detention curfew (HDC) in February 2017 just days after being released from prison.
Yesterday, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said the rules surrounding HDCs would be tightened after a damning report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said 24 offenders had been unlawfully at large for more than four years.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Gill Imery said the processes around HDCs needed to be “significantly improved”. Mr Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament he would accept all of the report’s recommendations, including a presumption against allowing anyone convicted of violence, possession of an offensive weapon or with links to organised crime to leave prison on an HDC.
He told MSPs he would also consider making it a criminal offence for anyone to remain unlawfully at large.
Wright breached his HDC and was deemed to be unlawfully at large by the Scottish Prison Service ten days after his release from HMP Low Moss where he had been serving a 21-month prison sentence for a knife-related crime.
On 23 February last year, he removed his electronic tag and left his curfew address. Police Scotland were alerted the following day by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) that Wright was now unlawfully at large.
However, he was still free on 23 July when he approached Mr McClelland, a father of three, in the street and asked him for a light before stabbing him twice.
Mr Yousaf paid tribute to Mr McClelland’s family, saying: “It is through their tenacity and tireless campaigning of behalf of Craig that we have got to this point.
“I want to thank them sincerely for their efforts as their campaigning means we will have a stronger, more robust home detention curfew regime.”
Mr Yousaf said it is “nonsense” to say Mr McClelland was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said: “James Wright was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Craig had every right to go from his house to his mother’s house and expect to get there safely.”
He said the Scottish Government, SPS and Police Scotland all accept all 37 recommendations made by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in Scotland (HMIPS) and HMICS in their separate reviews.
The HMICS report said that following Wright’s breach of licence, there was little documented evidence detailing the actions taken by police officers tasked with arresting him and returning him to prison.
While attempts were made by police officers to locate and arrest Wright after he removed his tag, HMICS said the local police division was unable to demonstrate that a “professional level of inquiry” was carried out. And it said there was “inadequate evidence” to demonstrate effective management oversight and supervision of the inquiry.
At present, police do not have the power of forced entry or search when someone is unlawfully at large, meaning an offender can evade arrest simply by refusing to answer their front door.
HMICS found that as of 29 June this year, 44 offenders released from Scottish prisons on the curfews were recorded by the service as “unlawfully at large”, and more than half (24) had been so for more than four years. The vast majority (38) were not recorded as unlawfully at large on police systems.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Daniel Johnson, said: “The murder of Craig McClelland was an untold and utterly unnecessary tragedy and our thoughts remain with his family and friends.
“But the reality is, it should not have taken a horrifying murder to bring these issues to light. This report lays bare multiple failings, not least the issue of police officers having appropriate powers to enforce community sentences – something Labour has repeatedly called for.
“While we welcome the report and its recommendations, it is absolutely shocking that Mr McClelland’s killer was allowed to stay at large for so long and that will rightly outrage the public.”
He added: “This murder not only shouldn’t have happened – it shouldn’t have been possible.”
Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said Mr McClelland’s murder had been the result of a “catastrophic failure” of the justice system.
He said: “Can I too praise the family of Craig McClelland for their bravery and leadership in pursuing this matter.
“But ultimately this has been a catastrophic failure of the justice system to protect the public – and on the SNP’s watch.
“The McClelland family and the public will be rightly asking why on earth tragedy had to strike in order for the SNP government to make these changes.”
Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan, of Police Scotland, said: “The decision as to whether an offender is approved for home detention curfew is not reached by Police Scotland, however, we are committed to working closely with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure enhanced collaboration moving forward.
“We have procedures in place to assess each case where a home detention curfew has been breached and offender is unlawfully at large and all recalls as a result of HDC breaches are treated as a high priority for local policing.”