United Kingdom

Justice Secretary seeks to block decision to release rapist serving life sentence

The Justice Secretary is seeking to block the decision to release a rapist serving a life sentence from prison, after the victim's family only learned of the plans through a journalist.

Wendell Baker, 63, was jailed in 2013 for attacking 66-year-old Hazel Backwell and locking her in a cupboard at her home in Stratford, east London.

The Parole Board announced last month that he was "suitable for release" after serving the eight-and-a-half year minimum term of his sentence.

However, Mrs Backwell's relatives were not formally informed about the decision and only found out through a newspaper reporter. Her daughter-in-law said it was a "total and utter shock".

The Ministry of Justice has admitted this should not have happened, and has directed the Parole Board to reconsider whether Baker should be released given the seriousness of his crime.

A spokesperson said: “This was a despicable crime and we apologise that Hazel Backwell’s family found out about the Parole Board’s decision in this way. We know this was distressing and it should not have happened.

“The Lord Chancellor has requested that the Parole Board reconsider its decision which he felt was not in line with the evidence put before the Board.”

Deficiencies in the parole system were laid bare following the case of the taxi driver rapist John Worboys, who was convicted of 19 offences against 12 women in 2009. He was cleared for release after serving 10 years, but this decision was then overturned by the High Court following an outcry.

A year later, a review was announced into the way the system operates. It resulted in victims being allowed to apply to the Ministry of Justice to appeal against the release of prisoners, rather than having to go through the courts to challenge a decision.

However, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime currently requires those who want to be contacted about parole decisions to opt into the Victim Contact Scheme.

The Ministry of Justice spokesperson added: “We are updating the Victims Code to ensure that victims are automatically referred to the National Probation Service by the police and to reduce the chances of this happening in future."

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