Failures of West Midlands Police and National Probation Service contributed to homicide of Lisa Skidmore inquest finds

Friday 21 June 2019

Sarah Hemingway of Garden Court Chambers represented the family at the inquest, instructed by Sarah Kellas of Birnberg Peirce and INQUEST Lawyers Group members. 

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The inquest into the homicide of Lisa Skidmore concluded on 20 June, with the jury returning a narrative conclusion finding multiple failures by police and probation services more than minimally contributed to her death. Lisa died on 24 November 2016, after a man who was under the supervision of the National Probation Service (NPS) entered her home and brutally raped and killed her.

Lisa, 37, was born in Wolverhampton. She was the youngest of five children and was loved dearly by her family. Lisa lived her whole life in Wolverhampton and qualified as a nurse in 2000. She dedicated herself to this career, helping and caring for others.

The inquest heard that on the day of her death, Lisa was at home as she was unwell. The perpetrator, Leroy Campbell, entered Lisa’s property through her bedroom window using a ladder. Lisa’s mother, who was 80 years old at the time, was also attacked and tied up before the perpetrator set fire to the property and fled.

Emergency services were called to respond to the fire seen by neighbours, but Lisa was found dead at the scene. The cause of death was determined to be “compression of the neck”. In May 2017, Leroy Campbell pleaded guilty to murder as well as a number of other serious offences including rape. He was sentenced to a whole life term of imprisonment.

The jury at the inquest gave a narrative conclusion finding:

“There was a clear escalation of risk between 17 October 2016 and 24 November 2016. Furthermore, these failures to respond to the risk were more than a minimal contribution to Lisa Skidmore’s murder.”

Further commenting:

“Communication is vital in the management of offenders, however in this instance the agencies involved failed to share key information of the perpetrators disclosures.”

The inquest heard that at the time of Lisa’s death, the perpetrator was under NPS supervision, having been released on licence in July 2016 from a discretionary life sentence. On release he was assessed by the probation service as a Tier 4 case, which means high risk of serious harm. His previous offending history included rape and serious sexual assaults against women in their own homes. Six weeks before he carried out the attack on Lisa, the perpetrator confirmed to probation services that he was “noticing open windows” and thinking about rape, as well as disclosing other trigger factors linked to his previous offences. No steps were taken to recall him to prison.

That week he separately disclosed to West Midlands police that he was feeling isolated and down. He also informed police that he was noticing open windows. The police took no steps to recall him to prison. Six weeks after the disclosure to probation services and the police, during which time no adequate risk assessment was carried out, Campbell brutally attacked Lisa and her mother. Both women were not known to him.

The jury found that there was a failure to communicate and share information internally and externally between probation and police. They also noted that there was “a heavy reliance on what the perpetrator was relating to the Police and Probation without home checks carried out”. When the risk was identified, they concluded that there remained a failure to take adequate measures to manage that risk.

The jury also found insufficient consideration was given to the option of making a reference to recall him to prison at any point from 17 October 2016 onwards. Three key witnesses confirmed at the inquest that if they had been aware of the full information, recall action to return him to prison would have been initiated as the recall test was passed. However, the jury found Line management within Probation failed to recognise the risk identified by staff and the police.

The coroner also heard evidence to inform a potential report to prevent future deaths. Sonia Crozier, the Head of Probation for England and Wales gave evidence in which she referred to Chris Grayling’s “flagship initiative - Transforming Rehabilitation”, which was introduced in summer of 2014. She said that this had resulted in significant changes to the organisation and culture of probation services resulting, amongst other things, in a deficiency of qualified probation officers. She said of the failures in the Lisa Skidmore case that she was “personally and professionally ashamed.”

Margaret Skidmore, mother of Lisa said:

“The family would like to thank all family, friends, our legal team and all other parties who have supported the family for their continued support during this very stressful and challenging time. 

After just over two and half years of fighting the family finally have justice and accountability for Lisa’s death that should have been avoided if appropriate timely action had been taken by the probation and police services.

Lisa was one of the most honest, caring and kind person you could meet who also had a sensitive side and would not have hurt anyone. Her tragic death not only devastated the whole family but also her friends and work colleagues. To be taken in such a cruel horrible way is lasting pain that the family will always have endure. The family hope that the lesson’s learned from this shocking atrocity stops it from ever happening to anyone else and their families having to endure the pain suffering our family has to endure.”

Sarah Kellas, Birnberg Peirce Ltd solicitors, who represented the family said:

“Lisa Skidmore was a single woman who lived alone. She deserved to be safe in her own home. Tragically the evidence that has come out of her inquest has compounded her family’s fears that she was far from that. There was a litany of failures, at every level, by probation and the police – the agencies responsible for the public protection to manage and properly respond to a dangerous and violent sexual offender whose risk had clearly escalated.

Unfortunately, this is not the only case we are dealing with where a violent offender has gone on to kill when under the supervision of probation. It is of note that these cases all follow Chris Grayling’s catastrophic “Transforming rehabilitation” initiative in 2014 which massively increased workload of an overstretched probation service and meant individual officers were not able to stay on top of caseloads, leading to utterly avoidable and devastating results”.

Deborah Coles, INQUEST Director said:

“The shocking death of Lisa Skidmore was preventable and the direct result of a failing criminal justice system. Warnings about physical and sexual violence to women were ignored by both the probation and the police service.

This inquest has performed a vital function of enabling proper public scrutiny and identifying systemic failings. This must result in real change. This is not an isolated case and until violence against women is taken seriously by authorities the deaths will continue. This cannot be allowed to happen.”  

Harriet Wistrich, Director of Centre for Women’s Justice said:

“This totally tragic and appalling death is one of a series of murders we are aware of that are attributable to probation failures. The victims in all our cases are women and children and the perpetrators men with a history of violence towards women. Grayling must carry some weight of responsibility for his disastrous “Transforming Rehabilitation” reforms, but we also need to ensure that risk assessment is informed by experts who understand the patterns and prevalence of male violence toward women and children”.

The inquest was reported by the BBC.

Sarah Hemingway is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries Team

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