Scottish police force apologises for double-murder by sex offender

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Strathclyde Police say the force has already made improvements in response.

Strathclyde Police in Scotland have apologised to the family of Diane Fallon and her daughter Holly after a report heavily criticised the force's handling of their killer — a known sex offender living next door.

Thomas Smith, now 28, had been given a six month jail sentence in 2006 after a sex attack on a ten-year-old girl. He had been living next door to the Fallons in a small village in Ayrshire for a year at the time of the murders in March 2009. Nobody in the village was aware he was a registered sex offender.

Smith sexually assaulted Diane Fallon, 43, and raped Holly, ten, before strangling them both. He also tortured them. A High Court judge in Glasgow ordered he serve at least 32 years of a life sentence, saying at the time Smith had "set a benchmark of depravity below which it is difficult to imagine any other human being sinking."

The new report, written by the Lothian and Borders Community Justice Authority's Robert Thomson, says Strathclyde Police made errors in their handling of Smith, who the police had "correctly" identified as "high risk" as he had attacked two different youngsters he did not know on the same day.

However, the report noted there was little in the way of justification given for this analysis. It also raised concerns that Smith's side of the story, which contained a denial, was given "plausibility" by the risk assessment and this may have "distracted" police officers responsible for dealing with him. This was "not helpful or necessarily good practice".

Other criticisms raised were that the police failed to properly consider whether Smith's new home was suitable for his status and lost chances to return him to custody — as may have happened had he been arrested over possible further violence against women and children. Had this happened, the report notes the murders may have been prevented. It found police found it difficult to monitor him, and the force's offender management unit had little oversight from management.

Thomson raised "great concern" in noting Smith's details were not all on the Scottish Intelligence Database. Criticism was also aimed at the legislative situation, with sex offenders "increasingly aware of their rights and the limited powers the police have in relation to their management" and "Officers... personally discouraged from taking innovative action and... less likely to push the boundaries of their police powers in the established climate of litigation and complaint."

A total of 34 recommendations were made, including some to the Scottish government. Amongst them is a suggestion search warrants might not be needed when dealing with the homes and phones of sex offenders. Other proposals include improved information sharing and increased resources available to monitor convicts.

"We fully accept what the report says and we have made a number of changes since the murders and as a result of the review process," says Strathclyde Police Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton. "Lessons have been learned and major improvements have been made." He says he has met with the family to discuss their report and offer a direct apology.