'Unstable' probation team blunders let Joseph McCann attack victims

Crazed rapist Joseph McCann was free to attack 11 victims due to series of blunders from ‘unstable’ team of inexperienced probation staff who missed eight chances to keep him behind bars, damning report finds

  • McCann, 35, was freed from prison by mistake two months before his rampage
  • A report by a watchdog reveals employees admitted being ‘scared’ of him
  • The rapist was given 33 life terms and jailed for at least 30 years in December 

Blundering probation staff missed a series of chances to recall serial rapist Joseph McCann to jail before he attacked 11 victims, a damning report reveals today.

He was given 33 life terms and jailed for at least 30 years in December for kidnapping, raping and sexually assaulting women and children aged 11 to 71.

McCann had been freed from prison by mistake two months before his two-week rampage fuelled by vodka and cocaine when he forced victims into his car at knifepoint.

Joseph McCann was jailed for carrying out a horrific campaign of kidnappings, rapes and sex attacks

How McCann was twice released from prison despite a judge finding he was ‘dangerous’ 

2008 – Joseph McCann threatened to stab an 85-year-old man in his home. He told the elderly man ‘give me money or I will knife you’ before taking his wallet and banking papers. He was jailed for an indeterminate term and told he cannot apply for parole for two and a half years.

Early 2017 – McCann is released on licence by the parole board.

Late 2017 – While on licence, he commits a burglary and is returned to prison on a three-year sentence.

February 2019 – McCann is wrongly released without having gone before the parole board. Instead, he is released automatically half way through his three-year jail term.

April and May 2019 – McCann goes on two-week rampage of rape, sexual assault and kidnap.

Last night a mother, who was tied up while he raped her son, 11, and her daughter, 17, in their home, said: ‘If the probation service had done its job, these tragedies would never have occurred. My family was torn apart by what that man did and it could all have been prevented.’

The report by watchdogs reveals staff admitted being ‘scared’ of McCann, 35, and said he was ‘very intimidating’ as well as ‘menacing and manipulative’.

The document added: ‘It is evident that offender managers were threatened, blamed and lied to by [McCann].’

Other shocking revelations include how McCann wrote to relatives asking them to find him a ‘clean young girl’ on his release. Yet he was not identified as a potential sex offender and prison officers did not share details of his letter.

Probation officers were also under pressure not to recall prisoners back to jail to ease overcrowding.

The report told how scrutiny of McCann in the community was mistakenly downgraded just 12 days after he was freed from jail in February last year.

The findings told how information was lost or not shared with probation staff who had an ‘excessive workload’. In another failing, ‘concerns by police in relation to his sexual behaviour were not identified’.

McCann, a traveller from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was jailed for burglary in 2017 and freed in February 2019.

In that period, there were eight occasions when he could have been recalled to appear before the Parole Board.

This should have happened under the terms of a ‘public protection’ jail sentence from 2008 for holding a knife to the throat of a pensioner.

A graphic shows how McCann carried out his the trail of misery before finally being brought to justice

McCann tried to run from police, pictured, before finally being arrested by officers

Probation staff where Joseph McCann lived forced to endure ‘chaotic conditions’ and were under ‘huge pressure’ due to workload

Probation staff in the region where Joseph McCann was supervised operated in ‘chaotic conditions’ due to the size of their workloads, a union leader has said.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, said staff nationally are working under ‘massive pressure’ and called for a public inquiry into the effects of part-privatising the service four years ago.

The South East and Eastern National Probation Service (NPS) – which was responsible for McCann’s supervision – was one of 21 rated as requiring improvement when it was inspected in May and showed failings in key areas like workload and staffing.

In findings published in September, inspectors called on the Government to intervene after warning that probation officers handling high-risk offenders were buckling under the pressure of workload and staff shortages.

As of March, the division was supervising more than 16,000 criminals and just over 35% were proven re-offenders.

Probation officers were dealing with at least 42 cases each on average – the highest of any of the seven NPS divisions, according to the report.

Mr Lawrence said: ‘The chaotic conditions caused by staff shortages and workloads were not uncommon.

‘The staffing levels across the NPS are at crisis levels. I’m not surprised that mistakes can be made when staff are working under massive pressure.

‘When probation was part privatised in 2015 we said that the fragmentation of the service would lower morale and lead to people quitting the service, and they did.

‘Napo wants a public inquiry into the whole of the impact of privatisation. We think that the people who engineered and imposed this should be called to account for what they have done.’

He explained that after his release, McCann would have been supervised based on his convictions for burglary.

‘He did go under the radar. The supervision would have been based on the crimes he had committed, not the suspicion he was going to commit rape.’

There are currently 1,000 vacancies in the NPS across England and Wales.

The September report found that half the staff interviewed by inspectors said their workload was unmanageable and that there were 102 vacancies for officers at the time, a 16% gap in expected staffing levels.

It concluded that more could be done to ‘identify and manage risks’.

More than a third of inspected cases were not being reviewed when circumstances changed and only half were properly focused on ‘keeping people safe’, according to the report.

It added: ‘Staff relied too much on the individual’s explanation of their offence, rather than corroborating facts with other sources.’

Nearly half (49%) of inspected probation reports did not include full information about the potential risk of harm posed by criminals and factors like child safeguarding were not properly assessed.

Mr Justice Edis, the judge in McCann’s trial, has called for an independent review of the failures surrounding the case.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We note the remarks by Mr Justice Edis relating to an independent investigation and we are carefully considering the next steps.’

But this was never flagged up and he was released to carry out the sickening crimes including eight rapes in Watford, north London, Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asked Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell to carry out an independent review of the case.

In the first of two reports, Mr Russell said there were ‘major failings’ in the way the case was handled, adding: ‘McCann was managed by an unstable team, lacking experienced and skilled practitioners. They suffered from poor management oversight, high workloads, poor performance and high staff turnover.’

Alan Collins, one of the lawyers representing McCann’s victims, told the PA news agency the report made ‘distressing reading’ and called for dangerous offenders to be ‘red flagged’ across the justice system to make sure such failings never happen again.

McCann – who had a long history of ‘serious offending’ and breaching court orders – saw 10 staff over 11 years, with three different probation officers responsible for his case in the months leading up to his prison release in February 2019.

‘There were signs that he posed an increasing risk to the public. There was evidence of his potential for sexual offending,’ Mr Russell said.

His report sets out a series of troubling findings, including details of ‘graphic’ letters intercepted by prison staff that McCann wrote to relatives in 2009 containing threats of sexual violence and revealing his desire for ‘a clean young girl’ on release from jail.

He even tried to escape from prison that year and was transferred to a high security jail after the attempt was foiled.

Details of police intelligence from 2003, which said McCann and a relative had been involved in the abuse and sexual exploitation of young teenage girls, was discussed at a meeting attended by the offender manager responsible for his case between 2010 and 2013.

Crucial information, recorded on different systems by various authorities, was ‘lost’ in handovers between staff, Mr Russell said.

‘Most worryingly’, prison officers identified in 2013 that McCann – ‘with the collusion of his family – was attempting to find a ‘young girl’ for his release’.

But the ‘key intelligence’ was not passed to probation staff, meaning they did ‘not have a clear picture’ of who they were dealing with and were making decisions based on ‘inadequate’ assessments, Mr Russell said.

McCann’s ability to manipulate staff was ‘underestimated’ and the level of threat he posed to the public was downgraded ‘too soon’ after his prison release, the report added.

An internal Ministry of Justice (MoJ) review published in March laid bare a catalogue of errors in the case after McCann’s sentencing judge described him as a ‘classic psychopath’.

The 34-year-old convicted burglar was freed after a probation blunder two months before he embarked on the cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage.

Had he been recalled to prison, he would have been kept behind bars until the Parole Board decided he was safe to release. Instead, he was automatically freed from jail after serving his term.

He was seen by probation officers 10 times in two months after his release, the last in April being days before he carried out the first rape.

Over 15 days, he abducted, raped and assaulted victims aged between 11 and 71 in London and the North West.

A jury found him guilty of 37 charges relating to 11 victims, including eight rapes, false imprisonment and kidnap.

One member of probation staff was demoted over the case.

Footage released by police shows McCann’s arrest after he hid up a tree after going on the run

Among 13 recommendations made to prison and probation services, Mr Russell said staff need better access to all relevant records, including historical case files, and urged jails to share information.

He also called for better scrutiny of recall decisions and more beds at bail hostels – known as approved premises – where offenders leaving prison are monitored by probation, which is where McCann should have been housed after release instead of with relatives.

The MoJ said McCann’s crimes were ‘horrendous’ and it had already apologised to victims for the ‘unacceptable failings’, adding: ‘We have greatly improved information sharing between prisons and probation officers and all probation staff have received new, mandatory training on when offenders should be recalled.’

An extra 800 probation officers are in training, a spokesman added.

The second part of the review is due to be published in the autumn.

The 11 victims of McCann two-week reign of terror

London crimes

  • McCann’s first victim was a 21-year-old single mum walking home from a nightclub in Watford in the early hours of the morning on April 20. After bundling her into his car he forced the victim to drive to her flat where he raped her on her own bed. 
  • Five days later a 25-year-old woman walking home from work was snatched off the street by McCann just yards from her home. The woman endured a 14 hour ordeal while repeatedly raped in McCann’s car. 
  • A 21-year-old woman was then snatched off the street while his second victim was still in the car. She was raped and forced to carry out degrading sex acts.

North West crimes

  • On May 5, McCann struck again after meeting a woman at a bar in Lancashire and going back to her home. He tied the woman up with cable from her hairdryer and then subjected her 17-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to a horrific four hour sex ordeal where they were both raped. 
  • McCann then abducted a 71-year-old woman in the car park of a supermarket. He later raped her in the car during a five hour ordeal.
  • He then abducted two 13-year-old boys and a 13-year-old girl in Manchester. The girl was sexually assaulted while the boys were released. 
  • His final victims were two 14-year-old girls who crouched in terror on the back seat of his stolen car while being chased by police.

Life of crime from 11 – Serial rapist Joseph McCann spent childhood stealing, setting fire to cars and terrorising neighbours as he became one of first in Britain to be given an ASBO aged 14

Evil sex beast Joseph McCann spent his childhood stealing, setting fire to cars and terrorising his terrified neighbours.

So violent were he and his brothers that he became one of the first in Britain to be given an ASBO, aged just 14.

The trio ran a campaign of intimidation on their impoverished Manchester estate during the 1990s.

Details of McCann’s criminal past were reported for the first time in December after he was found guilty of 37 charges relating to 11 victims, including eight rapes, false imprisonment and kidnap. 

The convicted burglar, who had been freed after a probation service error, went on a cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage, abducting, raping and assaulting victims aged between 11 and 71 in Watford, London and the North West. 

McCann, who was given 33 life terms and jailed for at least 30 years, changed his appearance and moved across five police force areas as he evaded police for 15 days despite telling his first victim his surname.

McCann, his elder brother Sean (centre, in red) and younger brother Michael (right, in blue) struck fear into residents in the 1990s. They are pictured in Manchester in 1999

The brothers emerged from court defiant in 1999. Staring down the cameras, McCann (right) and his brothers, Sean, then 16 and Michael (left), 12, were pictured swearing and grinning

But McCann, his elder brother Sean and younger brother Michael have been striking fear into locals for years.

One told MailOnline: ‘They were a horrible family, absolutely vile – scum of the earth.’

McCann is a convicted burglar who had been freed after a probation service error

The brothers became notorious in 1999 when they were given the first ASBOs and emerged from court defiant. 

Staring down the cameras, McCann and his brothers, Sean then 16 and Michael, 12, were seen swearing and grinning.

McCann grew up on the Beswick estate in Manchester, a deprived area of the city which has now been knocked down.

Born in 1985, the son of a Scottish builder and a mother with links to the traveller community, he grew up with a fierce temper and struggled to control his anger. 

He and his brothers stole for sport and threatened anyone who got in their way.

At the age of 11 he had his first brush with the police and was convicted in 1998 for theft.

When the boys were finally banned from the estate the following year, takings at the local shops increased by £14,000 a week. Sean McCann is pictured (centre) in Manchester in 1999

Former neighbours on an estate in Wealdstone, Middlesex, recalled how they lived in fear of the McCanns who issued threats to anyone who challenged them. Above, the former family home

So prolific was the three boys stealing that when they were finally banned from the estate the following year, takings at the local shops increased by £14,000 a week.

Forced to moved from Beswick, they headed south to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, and Middlesex where they linked up with their traveller relatives.

Former neighbours on a quiet estate in Wealdstone, Middlesex, recalled how they lived in fear of the McCanns who issued threats to anyone who challenged them.

‘They arrived overnight and brought havoc,’ one neighbour told MailOnline. ‘Everyone quickly got to know about the McCanns. They were awful.

‘Joseph and his brother were always stealing cars. They’d drive the cars around and then they’d burn them on our little green. The police would be around their house all the time.

‘One time they drove this van into the back garden. We called the police and they said it had been stolen about 15 minutes beforehand.’

He added: ‘We heard that they had had to leave where they used to live because it became too hot for them.’ 

McCann was in and out of prison until 2008 when armed with a knife, he broke into the home of a frail 85-year-old man in Bedford. 

McCann was caught on CCTV buying petrol and condoms at a Shell garage with two 14-year-old girls abducted in a Fiat car on May 5, just hours before police found him hiding up a tree

The pensioner was watching TV when McCann burst in through a sidedoor and threatened to stab the pensioner before stealing several items. 

Probation worker sacked after McCann recall shambles

The head of HM Prisons and Probation Service, has apologised ‘unreservedly’ for failings in the Joseph McCann case. 

The Ministry of Justice launched an inquiry into why McCann was not recalled to prison after committing a burglary following his release from an indeterminate sentence for aggravated burglary.  

Four probation officers from the Watford office faced a disciplinary, the BBC reported today, one of whom was demoted.

In a separate investigation, another worker was sacked and another had their contract terminated. 

Chief executive Jo Farrar said today: ‘We recognise that there were failings and we apologise unreservedly for our part in this. We are committed to doing everything we possibly can to learn from this terrible case.

‘We have taken strong and immediate action against those involved in the management of McCann’s case and are taking significant steps to improve intelligence sharing between agencies.

‘At the same time, we are developing new mandatory training on recall for all probation officers and we have updated guidance on the threshold for recalling an offender to prison.’

When McCann was jailed in 2008, his then girlfriend was pregnant with their second child. They already had a very young child.

Her name is believed to have been ‘Bobbie’ and it was this name which he had tattooed across his stomach. 

McCann spent the next 11 years in prison before being released, jailed again in 2018 and then released earlier this year for his devastating two week attack.

It was a marked shift of brutality for a man who until this year has focused pn carrying out violent burglaries. 

After his years in and out of prison, the McCann family are believed to have finally moved out of Wealdstone for good some six or seven years ago.

Another neighbour said: ‘I breathed a sigh of relief when they did. They used to throw bricks at anyone.

‘There used to be a brick wall outside their house. But they took all the bricks out to throw them at people.

‘If you said anything to them they would threaten to beat you up. There were two older boys and one little one. They were really horrible.

‘The boys were always out in the street. There was no way of avoiding them. Everyone knew the McCanns. But there was nothing we could do.

‘They were part of a gang. Their house was like their headquarters.’

Always close to his brothers, McCann was left bereft after Sean, 32, committed suicide in Peterborough prison in 2016 while serving a two-year sentence for assault. 

After his years in and out of prison, the McCann family are believed to have finally moved out of Wealdstone some six or seven years ago. Another neighbour said: ‘I breathed a sigh of relief when they did. They used to throw bricks at anyone’

Today, McCann’s parents live in a modest semi-detached bungalow on the outskirts of Aylesbury.

His father drives a 2019-plate 4×4 Ford Kuga car which is often parked on a driveway by the front door.

A sign on the wall warns visitors; ‘Beware of the wife.’

Part of a trailer lies on the driveway while a mobile home is parked in the garden behind a high wooden fence.

The semi-detached property is guarded by security cameras.

‘His eyes were pure evil’: Teenager, 17, who was raped in her own home by Joseph McCann revealed how he told her to have sex with her brother, 11, before she jumped naked from first floor window to save her family

Prosecutors and police hailed the incredible bravery of the victims who escaped Joseph McCann’s clutches after he was jailed in December.

McCann kept the women and children he snatched from the streets locked in his car for hours while raping others and holding them at knifepoint in their own homes.

Joseph McCann put his victims through horrific ordeals of rape and kidnap

A 17-year-old girl had to jump from the first floor window of her Lancashire home after McCann abducted her mother and tied her up at their house.

McCann raped the 17-year-old and her 11-year-old brother.

The 17-year-old said in a statement to police: ‘You know when you can see inside someone’s eyes and you know they are pure evil.’

The girl fractured her heel when she jumped out of a window naked to escape and she feared McCann had killed her mother and brother in revenge for her getting away.

Another of McCann’s victims told how she had to hit McCann over the head with a vodka bottle to get away after he kept them in his car.

She said: ‘I went back to the car to get a big bottle of vodka. I took the bottle out of the bag and hit him on the head,’ she said.

‘It smashed and I ran away to some builders shouting ‘help, help. He is kidnapping us. They let me into a builder’s merchants and I saw the car driveway.’

McCann at the Phoenix Lodge Hotel in Watford on the afternoon of April 25, as he left two women, his alleged victims, in his car outside

McCann’s other victims included a 21-year-old woman he snatched as she walked home from Pryzm nightclub in Watford in the early hours of April 21. 

On April 25, he abducted a 21-year-old woman in broad daylight in north-west London. Already inside the car was another woman, 25, who had been abducted in east London and held captive for 14 hours.

His final two victims were two 14-year-old girls who crouched in terror on the back seat of his stolen car while being chased by police.

After McCann was convicted, CPS prosecutor Tetteh Turkson said: ‘His victims endured horrifying acts of sexual violence and were subjected to a truly terrifying ordeal.

‘It was through persistence and bravery that some of them managed to escape.

‘They showed great strength of character in recounting their stories to police and giving evidence to the court – reliving some of what must have been the darkest moments of their lives.

‘It is with the power of this evidence, and the courage of the victims in giving evidence, that Joseph McCann has been convicted of his crimes.

‘I hope today’s verdicts provide some comfort to the victims and allows them to focus on moving on and rebuilding their lives.’ 

The seven men and five women on the panel at the Old Bailey trial took the unusual step of passing a note to trial judge Mr Justice Edis asking him to place on record their sentiments.

The note said: ‘The jury want to acknowledge the bravery of all the victims in this case and the courage it has taken for them to come forward.’

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