Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The release of Learco Chindamo.

[by Septicisle]

Back in 2006, the Sun was tipped off that the killer of headteacher Philip (see comments for the cock-up previously here) Lawrence, Learco Chindamo, was being allowed out for a day unsupervised from his open prison, part of the usual program of preparing prisoners for their eventual release, of which Lawrence's widow had been informed, if not told of the exact nature of his day out. Their article, headed "OUTRAGE", was under the by-line of John Kay, the Sun journalist convicted of killing his wifein a failed murder-suicide pact. Despite describing him as "not having a care in the world" and "swaggering" he was in fact pursued at length by the paper's team, even though they got the shots which would be used as he had first emerged from Ford open prison.

Today the paper splashes on his release from prison, having served two years more than the minimum which was recommended for his offence. The article, in many ways, is remarkably similar. Probably realising that they couldn't have gotten away with one killer calling another "evil", it this time fell to Anthony France to write the article, headlined "HEAD'S EVIL KILLER FREED". The pattern is exactly the same: his every move over the weekend was monitored, right down to the truly thrilling detail that he found himself on the wrong train platform and had to sprint to the right one. This time, rather than "swaggering" he was instead "strutting", although a "source" declared he was "strolling along enjoying the sunshine as if he didn't have a care in the world".

All of which is, it should be noted, with the exception of the description of him as "evil", is fair enough. The release of a notorious killer into the community is undoubtedly a matter of public interest. Far less fair are the same inaccuracies which almost always feature in any report on Chindamo. Firstly, that his appeal against deportation to Italy was granted on human rights grounds when it was not. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's decision was in fact based on the 2004 EU citizenship directive, and the government's appeal was rejected on the grounds of a subsequent 2006 EU immigration regulations, where the judge decided that Chindamo did not pose a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat" to society. It was in any case perverse that Chindamo could have been deported back to Italy - he arrived in London when he was 6, could speak no Italian and had no actual family connections in that country. He was a product, of this country and while he was responsible for his actions he should also be considered our responsibility, not that of a country he left as a small child.

The second inaccuracy is the continued assertion that Chindamo was still considered a threat back in 2007, not just repeated in the Sun's article and its leader comment, but also in the Telegraph. It's true that in the Home Office's submission to the immigration tribunal it says that "the appellant’s crime is of such severity that he will always continue to be a threat to the community such that his release on licence would be on the basis that he might be recalled to prison at any moment for any breach of his conditions". This however is the regime which all those sentenced to life in prison find themselves under when they are released on parole; they are on licence for the rest of their lives and any breach of their conditions, if considered serious enough, results in their instant return to prison. The other parts of the paragraph which are less willingly recalled directly contradict the claim that he still poses a threat:
In the revised reasons for deportation letter it is noted that it is unlikely that the appellant will re-offend, and that he accepts his responsibility for his offences and has undertaken courses for anger management


In this regard though we must bear in mind the point to which we were referred by Mr Scannell that that assessment was not made on account of the appellant being a threat to the public but because of the likelihood of media scrutiny and/or public interest. The letter does note that risk factors might increase because of media and public scrutiny that the appellant might receive. It also comments that the OAsys report notes that there are occasions where the appellant has overacted to situations and there are severe concerns with finding him appropriate accommodation on release if allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. He would need to be excluded from certain parts of the country, community integration would be a problem on release and he might suffer a backlash. The letter states that the appellant’s notoriety might make him feel excluded from society as he had been before and there was a significant risk that his previous disregard for authority and the law might resurface and result in him coming to adverse attention. As a consequence it was considered that he posed a continuing risk to the public and that his offences were so serious that he represents a genuine and present and sufficiently serious threat to the public in principle such as to justify his deportation.
In other words, the Home Office was not justifying his deportation on the grounds that he himself was a threat, but rather of what might increase the risk should he be released, which unsurprisingly is the media following his every move as it has so far done. If anything, it seems to be suggesting that the problem might be if he is forced to defend himself; far easier to dispose of him to Italy where no one would recognise him then have to draw up effective and also expensive plans to potentially protect him. It also has to be remembered that this was part of a letter putting forward the case for his deportation, where the argument was always likely to put as forcefully as possible. In any case, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal at the time rejected it, and the parole board would have heard exactly the same arguments before making its decision, again obviously rejected, with any threat or risk decided to be manageable.

The Sun does at least at the end of their story give space to the statement issued by Chindamo's solicitor, which outlines his remorse and gives an indication as to how he intends to continue to atone for his crime. It doesn't however make mention of the how the deputy prison governor at Ford considered Chindamo to be one of the very few prisoners he had encountered who had genuinely made a change for the better, who if given a chance "would prove himself worthy of trust", probably for the reason that he tried to get the hearing held behind closed doors because of the press coverage of his day release.

The paper's editorial tone has also somewhat changed from back in 2007 when it declared he should not be released, although not by enough, and which again repeats the inaccuracies dealt with above. It also mentions another comment made, dealt with myself again at the time:
One fellow con said he showed not one ounce of remorse - quite the opposite, in fact.
The fellow con was Mark Brunger, and his comments were based on how Chindamo supposedly was while at a young offender's institution. Back in 2007 at best he had not had any association with Chindamo for 3 years - and at worst anything up to 7, and that's if we believe him.
That was just three years ago.

We can only pray that letting him loose is not a gamble with someone else's life.
And the Sun, as the Home Office set out, is doing its part perfectly.

All the signs are however that Chindamo is that rare thing - a truly reformed character. Giving a convicted killer the benefit of the doubt is always going to be difficult, even when Frances Lawrence has herself apparently now forgiven him and magnanimously hopes for the best. Chindamo has to live up to what is expected of him, but to do that others have to take him into their confidence as well. The Sun, the rest of the media, and the public should now give him the opportunity and the space to do just that.


kt said...

You have no idea whether he's a 'truly reformed character' or not, it's not like they have a great record on this (Raoul Moat).

As for your sanctimonious lecture that the public should 'give him space' or that the widow has forgiven him, try reading some of her articles about the horrific way she thinks she's been treated by the authorities.

And there are many civilised societies like Canada who deport 'British' paedophiles amd murderers to this country who've never spent a second here.

septicisle said...

No, I don't know whether he's truly reformed or not. The fact however that quite a few who would normally either stay silent or in fact say the opposite have spoken in favour of him gives at least an indication that he's changed his ways. His case could also not be more different to Moat's; he was in prison for a minor assault on a family member, had a clear vendetta against his girlfriend and her new lover which should have been picked up by the prison authorities sooner and the police informed about his potential to reoffend. There was no indication whatsoever on Moat's part that he intended to move on from his past life, in contrast to here.

I do know about Frances Lawrence's battles with the authorities, and the report yesterday by Louise Casey put forward a number of recommendations which should be put into action to help victims in their dealings with the criminal justice system. Adjusting to their needs is always going to be difficult when it has been based for so long on prosecution rather than the wider needs of everyone who comes into contact with it.

As for those for those countries, does that make it right? Was sending that paedophile who'd lived in Australia almost his entire life here a few years back the right decision? The tabloids who were complaining about Chindamo not being sent back to Italy certainly didn't think so when it was other countries dumping their problems on us. There's also the crucial difference between Italy and Canada/Australia of the language barrier.

anonymous1 said...

How refreshing to read this article , you have indeed done your research.
I personally know Learco and find him to be a "reformed character" i knew him from childhood and continue my friendship with him,i find him to be a "good guy" and always have ,he was never an "evil" guy to start off with . i dont know all the details and i don't know everything the media has said i try to stay away from it all , but i know that at a young age most have found themselves in unlikely situations and this one resulted in the worse of circumstances . i know this crime was horrific and i cant imagine the pain of the Lawrence Family my heart goes out to them.
i know he just wants to continue his life in peace and if The Sun would report like you have ,i think more people would be rooting for him to continue his life quietly and decently as intended.
He says thank you

Gasman said...

At the risk of appearing pedantic, surely you mean "Philip Lawrence" in your opening paragraph?

Stephen Lawrence is an altogether different case...

septicisle said...

Yes, yes I do. How I didn't and how anyone else didn't notice that before is beyond me. Humble, abject, grovelling apologies for being such an arsehead.

Gasman said...

:-) Good job I didn't mention the dirty fork...

It's a really good article and you may be being a little hard on yourself with the Lawrence confusion...

Tim said...

"Good job I didn't mention the dirty fork..."


Of course, you'd probably never get an admission (never mind an apology) out of a tabloid.

NLondonmeme said...

S'funny how, even if the victim's family have forgiven the crime, some people continue to be outraged on their behalf. Without their say-so.

David Kessler Author said...

"All the signs are however that Chindamo is that rare thing - a truly reformed character."

What are these signs?

Is there a mechanism for distinguishing between a man who says "I'm sorry" and means it, on the one hand, and a man who says "I'm sorry" as a way of obtaining early release, on the other? Such a mechanism would be very useful.

Having said that I was very impressed by the Anonymous contributor who claimed to know Chindamo and said that he was always a "good guy" (even when he murdered Philip Lawrence.

Presumably as a reformed good guy he will continue to show his goodness - or at least whenever he "finds himself" in an "unlikely situation." (Note the use of the passive form in Anonymous1's formulation to separate the actor from responsibility for the action.)