Authorities 'Failed' Murder Victim

A woman murdered in Winchester by a convicted sex offender was let down by the authorities whose failings contributed to her death, an inquest jury's ruled.

The five men and four women ruled that Naomi Bryant had been unlawfully killed in Winchester in 2005.

But the jury found that the probation and prison services, the police and other agencies which were responsible for handling her killer Anthony Rice, who had been released on licence, had "more than minimally'' contributed to her death through their failings.

Central Hampshire Coroner Grahame Short said the case was a "wake-up call'' for those responsible for offender management.

And the murder victim's 73-year-old mother, Verna Bryant, said that she hoped lessons would be learned to help protect others.

Mr Short said:

"I am considering making recommendations to some of the agencies involved in this case.

"I believe the death of Naomi Bryant was a wake-up call to all of those dealing with offender management.

"The inquest which has been held has highlighted a lot of the issues that resulted from that and the reasons for their concerns.''

Some of the jury members wiped away tears as the verdict was read out and each jury member took it in turns to shake Mrs Bryant's hand as they left the court.

Mrs Bryant said:

"I am glad that the result has come out the way it should have done.

"I feel they (the authorities) have failed themselves and as the coroner said it's a wake-up call for all of them.

"Let's hope something better comes out of it.''

The jury found that the failures by the authorities included failing to pass on important information such as previous convictions, including child sex offences, to his parole board and case handlers.

This meant that those directly responsible for Rice's care and release from prison were unaware of how dangerous an offender he was.

The agencies criticised included Hampshire Probation Service, the Prison Service, London Probation Service, Hampshire Police and the Langley House Trust which ran the bail hostel where Rice lived.

The six-week hearing looked at the issues surrounding the release of Rice, including the role of the police, Prison Service, Probation Service and the charity-run hostel he was staying at when he committed the murder.

Dundee-born Rice, 54, is serving a life sentence after admitting he strangled and stabbed to death mother-of-one Ms Bryant, 40, in Winchester.

At the time of the murder, Rice was under the supervision of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, Mappa - a government framework designed to manage violent offenders in England and Wales.

During the inquest prison forensic psychologist Julia Long said the sex offender "duped everyone'' into believing he had made more progress than he actually had.

He had previous convictions for child sex assaults and attacking women but she told the hearing she did not know about the offences against children.

She said she felt Rice "made good progress'' during a 12-month sex offenders' treatment programme while in prison.

In the months before the killing Rice was living at the Elderfield Hostel near Winchester. His probation supervision had been cut to every two weeks.

Mrs Bryant has fought for several years to be granted an inquest into her daughter's death because hearings do not normally take place after criminal proceedings.

She has been backed by civil rights organisation Liberty.

Rice had a long history of sexual offences against women and children dating back to 1972, including a serious sexual assault against a five-year-old girl in 1975 and rape of a woman in 1982.

He was jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 1989 for attempted rape but released from prison in November 2004 and went to live at the Elderfield hostel.

Nine months later, he killed the multiple sclerosis sufferer and alcoholic at her home after meeting her in a pub a few days before.

He had decided to kill her, he told police, because she had stopped holding his hand as they walked to her house and this made him angry.

She was found by her ex-boyfriend naked under a duvet in her bedroom. She had been strangled with a pair of tights and stabbed 16 times.

Rice has not given evidence to the inquest and was not legally represented.

Barrie Crook, chief executive of Hampshire Probation Trust, said:

"We recognise that the family of Naomi Bryant have had to wait a long time for some of the questions raised in this inquest to be answered.

"On behalf of the staff from the probation trust we regret that we were not able to foresee or prevent Anthony Rice from committing this terrible crime.

"We appreciate that misjudgements were made once Rice was released into Hampshire and both the previous Independent Report and today's verdict have pointed out how his case could have been handled better.

"The trust has taken seriously all these points and recommendations.

"We have already put in place a number of measures to try to ensure that such a sequence of events is unlikely to occur in the future.

"These include training for relevant staff, more detailed Mappa procedures and a new agreement with Elderfield hostel concerning referrals and the exchange of information about residents.

"However it is also important to note that the jury found that staff in Hampshire did not receive full details of Rice's criminal history prior to his release to assist in the management of the risk that he posed.''

Steve Robinson, chief executive of Langley House Trust, said:

"I would like to place on record the Trust's great sadness over the events around the murder of Naomi Bryant.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of Naomi who was well known and well loved by the community.

"In the almost six years since the murder, the trust has full co-operated with all the statutory agencies involved and has implemented every change that has been recommended.

"We have also made numerous changes of our own.

"The past six years have been a very difficult time for the staff and residents of the Elderfield project but we know that this has been nothing as compared to the loss felt by Naomi's family.

"The local community has, in the main, been understanding and supportive of our work over more than 50 years and we sincerely hope that we can continue to build on this relationship.''