‘Serious failings’ in probation’s handling of quadruple murderer, watchdog finds

There were “serious failings” in the Probation Service’s handling of a drug dealer who murdered his girlfriend and three of her family members, a watchdog has found.

Joshua Jacques, 29, was jailed for life, with a minimum sentence of 46 years, at the Old Bailey last week after stabbing to death Samantha Drummonds and her relatives at their home in Bermondsey, south London, in April 2022 – five months after he was released from jail.

He claimed he had killed Ms Drummonds, 27, her mother Tanysha Ofori-Akuffo, 45, grandmother Dolet Hill, 64, and Ms Hill’s partner, Denton Burke, 58, as a “sacrifice” after their bodies were discovered by police.

Mr Justice Bryan said he had committed the “horrific catalogue of murders” after abusing skunk cannabis, of which he was “well aware” of the impact on his mental health and contributed to his offending.

Jacques was on probation at the time, having been released on licence on 11 November 2022 from a 51-month prison sentence in 2019 for supplying Class A drugs and possession of Class B drugs.

After carrying out an independent review of how the Probation Service managed Jacques, Chief Inspector of Probation Martin Jones said “there were serious failings” in his supervision.

“Despite concerns about repeated non-compliance with his licence conditions, enforcement practice was inconsistent and opportunities to recall Jacques to custody were missed,” he said.

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A condition to engage in drug abuse intervention was not organised and Jacques regularly used cannabis while on probation, the review found.

Probation officers were aware of Jacques’ mental health history, including that he had been sectioned in 2018 and he had reported random aggression as a symptom of a decline in his mental health.

“In February 2022, Jacques disclosed to probation court staff that he was experiencing a decline in his mental health; however, no action was taken,” said Mr Jones.

Court sketch of Joshua Jacques
Court sketch of Joshua Jacques. Pic: PA

Before his release, Jacques was assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm to the public but his risk to staff or potential partners was “underestimated” and no risk assessment was completed after he was freed.

The review found Jacques was wrongly allocated a newly qualified probation officer who had finished their training just three months earlier, and that there was “insufficient” management and “a lack of professional curiosity”.

“This meant several events, such as an arrest for further offences, disclosure of declining mental health, problematic behaviour towards neighbours, a new relationship, and the unpermitted use of social media, were not responded to or explored sufficiently,” said Mr Jones.

“Sadly, this case is symptomatic of the issues we have observed across the probation service in recent years.

“A reliance on an inexperienced cohort of probation staff, a lack of support for mental health and substance misuse issues alongside insufficient management oversight are concerns which have been highlighted repeatedly.

“As a result of this review, eight recommendations were made to HMPPS (HM Prison and Probation Service). They have accepted all these recommendations and responded with an action plan for implementing them.”

Read more:
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The chief probation officer for England and Wales Kim Thornden-Edwards, has apologised to the families and friends of the victims.

“I am deeply sorry for the unacceptable failings in this case and our thoughts remain with the families and friends of Samantha Drummonds, Denton Burke, Dolet Hill and Tanysha Ofori-Akuffo,” she said.

“The former justice secretary (Dominic Raab) commissioned an independent review into this case and we are taking immediate steps to address the issues raised, including increased support for newly qualified probation officers and improved access to substance misuse treatment for supervised offenders with a history of drug use.

“We are also using the extra £155 million being invested into the Probation Service every year to strengthen supervision, reduce caseloads, steer offenders away from crime and keep the public safe.”

Undated family handout photo issued by the Metropolitan Police of Zara Aleena. A sexual predator who stalked and murdered Zara Aleena is set to challenge his sentence at the Court of Appeal. Jordan McSweeney targeted at least five women before he turned his attention to 35-year-old Ms Aleena as she walked home from a night out early on June 26 2022. Issue date: Friday October 20, 2023.
Probation errors left Jordan McSweeney ‘free’ to kill Zara Aleena. Pic: PA

The case is the latest to expose failures in the Probation Service’s handling of offenders, following damning reports on the cases of quadruple killer Damien Bendall and Jordan McSweeney, who stalked and murdered law graduate Zara Aleena, 35.

A watchdog found the handling of Bendall was of an “unacceptable standard” at every stage and “critical opportunities” to correct errors were missed before he murdered three children and his pregnant partner with a claw hammer in Killamarsh, Derbyshire.

A coroner later found a series of “very stark” failures had contributed to the deaths of his 35-year-old girlfriend Terri Harris, her children, John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey Bennett, 11, and Lacey’s friend, 11-year-old Connie Gent, in September 2021.

Another report found a catalogue of errors in the handling of McSweeney meant he was not treated as a high-risk offender when he should have been and was left free to kill Ms Aleena just days after he was released from jail.

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