Dominic Raab has launched a scathing attack on the Parole Board after he rejected his appeal against the decision to free the mother of Baby P, who died after months of abuse.
The justice secretary had claimed that the decision to release Tracey Connelly, who was jailed indefinitely with a minimum term of five years in May 2009, should be reconsidered on the grounds of irrationality, but a judge upheld the original decision.
It means Connelly, 40 – who was convicted of causing or allowing the death of her 17-month-old son, Peter, at their home in Tottenham, north London, in 2007 – could be out within weeks. Raab reacted angrily, proposing a “fundamental overhaul” that would curb the board’s independence.
Raab, who is also the lord chancellor, tweeted: “Tracey Connelly’s cruelty towards her son, baby Peter, was pure evil. Ella’s decision to release her demonstrates why the Parole Board needs a fundamental overhaul – including a ministerial check for the most serious offenders – so that it serves and protects the public.
When it announced its initial decision in March, the board said that all professional witnesses supported Connelly’s release in evidence at the hearing and the secretary of state’s representative confirmed this recommendation was accepted. It added that witnesses told the panel Connelly posed a low risk of reoffending.
Connelly was released from jail in 2013 but was returned to prison two years later for breaching her parole conditions. She was subsequently refused parole in 2015, in 2017 and again in 2019.
The board said in a statement on Thursday: “Following the reconsideration application from the secretary of state, a judge has ruled that the decision made by independent Parole Board members to release was not irrational, as stated in the reconsideration application, and the original decision is upheld.”
Her release will be subject to her living in designated accommodation and strict limitations on her contacts, movements and activities.
Raab had also claimed that there was a failure to take account of all the evidence, excessive weight was given to the purported effectiveness of external controls and that insufficient reasons were given, but the judge rejected all of those arguments.
A power to seek reconsideration of a Parole Board decision if a party believes the decision was irrational or unfair was introduced in 2019 after the uproar surrounding its decision to release John Worboys, the black-cab rapist.
The decision to release Worboys was overturned by the high court in March 2018 after two of his victims challenged it and in November of the same year, the board overturned its own decision. But the political row led to the then chair of the board, Nick Hardwick, losing his job. He later accused the justice secretary at the time, David Gauke, of chasing headlines and compromising the integrity of the justice system over his handling of the case.
The legacy of the Worboys case was also behind the decision announced by the Parole Board on Wednesday to allow victims to attend parole hearings, after a government manifesto pledge. Trials will begin next month.
Connelly’s boyfriend, Steven Barker, and Barker’s brother, Jason Owen, were also jailed in 2009 for causing or allowing Peter’s death.
In 2020-21, the Parole Board released 4,289 offenders and directed that 12,154 remain in prison (74%). Of those released, 27 committed a serious further offence, at a rate of 0.5%. Official statistics show that life-sentenced prisoners are significantly less likely than those who did not receive a life sentence to commit a serious further offense after release by the board.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.