Inquest secured by Human Rights Act finds institutional failings contributed to death of Naomi Bryant

10 March 2011

Today at Winchester Crown Court, an inquest found that murder victim Naomi Bryant was unlawfully killed due to an astounding series of public authority failings. Mother-of-one Naomi was killed by convicted sex offender Anthony Rice while he was on licence from prison in 2005.

The jury found that errors by the prison, parole board, probation services and other agencies directly contributed to Naomi’s death.

The Coroner originally decided not to hold an inquest after Rice confessed to the murder.  Liberty, acting on behalf of Naomi’s mother Verna Bryant, used Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the right to life – to secure an inquest into her death.  The inquest also completely dispelled the myth that the Human Rights Act was the reason for Rice’s release and instead pointed to the staggering list of errors by various bodies that led to Naomi’s death.

Verna Bryant, Naomi’s mother, said:

“After almost six years, and one abandoned inquest, I have at last been given answers to my questions following the terrible loss of my daughter.  I have been shocked and upset at what I have heard, but I believe that getting all the different agencies together – to hear about each other’s failings and see what impact their own mistakes had – has proved very valuable. 

There has never been any doubt that Anthony Rice killed my daughter, but it is now clear that there were many, many occasions when individuals could have, and should have, acted differently.  There were also several serious institutional failings that meant the true level of threat that this man posed was never fully appreciated. 

Because of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act and the efforts of Liberty, a full inquest has finally been held into Naomi’s death and all these failings have been exposed.  I hope that each agency will now reflect upon the evidence heard, as well as the detailed verdict of the jury, to ensure that lessons are learned and that no-one ever has to go through this again.”

Emma Norton, legal officer for Liberty and representing Mrs Bryant, said:

“Politicians seeking to dilute the Human Rights Act take note – but for the HRA this inquest would never have happened and the Bryant family would never have known the true extent of the numerous terrible and avoidable failings that contributed to Naomi’s tragic death.  Officialdom sought to scapegoat the Human Rights Act for Naomi’s murder – instead the truth is that it has given her family the answers they have been seeking for six years. Without the protection of this vital legislation victims will suffer.”

Twenty-one witnesses – including officials from two probation services, police, Rice’s parole board and Elderfield – gave evidence at the inquest.  Every witness – apart from one – admitted they had not known of Rice’s offences against children.

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

Notes to editors

1. During the inquest, the jury also heard that:

  • The judge who handed Rice his life sentence for attempted rape in 1989 had warned: “If released before cure, he will kill”;
  • Documents containing information about Rice’s violent offences against children may never have been read by officials overseeing his release;
  • The Coroner was upset by attitudes at the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service towards the inquest – accusing their civil servants of trying to ‘keep their heads below the parapet’;
  • Prison and probation services were not consulted by Langley House Trust about Rice’s referral to Elderfield probation hostel;
  • Rice’s case manager claimed she had never seen documents revealing his status as a Schedule 1 offender (someone who has offended against a child);
  • The Elderfield manager noticed Rice’s Schedule 1 status – but did nothing about the information and made no enquiries about the child offences;
  • Elderfield – with no CCTV, adequate curfew monitoring facilities or waking night staff – was never supposed to house any violent or sexual offenders;
  • A Detective Inspector (DI) from Hampshire Police warned that Elderfield was unsuitable for Rice and incapable of managing the level of risk he posed;
  • The same DI told a Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa) meeting that Rice would need 24-hour police surveillance – but then went on leave and the matter was lost and never again raised;
  • A Hampshire probation official was sending e-mails about Rice to the wrong probation official in London – and failed to question why she never received any replies;
  • Two of the officials who attended the parole board hearing and were recommending Rice’s release had only met him once – and no-one on the board knew about his previous sexual offences against children;
  • In 2004, Rice told a woman worker at a local garage he had been jailed for ‘chemical offences’ and electrocuting and torturing an accomplice;
  • A PC assigned as the police contact at Mappa meetings about Rice was trying to juggle a mammoth caseload of around 150 sex offenders;
  • By November 2004, the Police National Computer did contain information about Rice’s offences against children – but it never came to light;
  • Rice became aggressive and deceitful at Elderfield, and there were reports of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards a female member of staff;
  • Concerns were raised that Rice’s mental health was deteriorating and that his ‘bitterness was growing daily’ at the hostel;
  • Rice snuck out of the hostel in April 2005 and, having lost £30 to a prostitute, attacked a woman on her way to work – smashing a brick into the back of her head;
  • By June 2005, staff at Elderfield had effectively ‘given up’ trying to monitor Rice, leaving him free to come and go as he wished – and murder Naomi Bryant just two months later.

 

2. Rice, who had a 34-year history of violent sexual attacks, left jail in November 2004 after serving 16 years for rape, indecent assault and actual bodily harm.  He killed Naomi after bumping into her in a pub while staying on licence at Elderfield probation hostel in Otterbourne, near Winchester.  The inquest was abandoned in March last year after new information about public authorities’ knowledge of Rice’s sexual offending against children – including a girl as young as five – emerged.  It reopened at Winchester Crown Court in January, and lasted six weeks as the handling of Rice’s prison release and supervision on licence was examined.