Get In Touch

Jury Concludes IPP Sentence Caused Or Contributed To Francis Williams Suicide Following Fears Of Indefinite Detention

Francis Williams, 43, a personal trainer from Bognor Regis, died by suicide after being informed by his probation officer that he was facing recall to prison under an IPP sentence because he had been made homeless.

A jury has concluded that the IPP sentence handed to Francis Williams in 2006, caused or contributed to his death. Mr Williams, upon hearing that he was to be recalled to prison, notified his probation officer that he intended to take his own life, rather than face a further indefinite period in prison. Questions have also been raised around the treatment of Francis Williams by Sussex Police and the Ministry of Justice following his confirmation to his probation officer that he intended to end his life. Francis was informed that he would be recalled to prison as a consequence of being made homeless.

Francis was one of the first individuals to be made subject to the controversial, and now abolished, imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence. After being released from prison, he worked hard to build up his life, setting up a successful personal training business in Brighton. Nevertheless, Francis lived in constant fear of being recalled to prison at any time under the terms of the IPP sentence, which places individuals on indefinite licence for at least 10 years after release from prison. Having struggled with substance misuse and mental health issues for most of his life, Francis was consumed by the ever-present fear that any mistake or relapse would prompt probation to send him back to prison. Due to this, he was reluctant to engage with support and rehabilitation services in case it triggered his recall to prison. As a result, Francis felt incredibly frustrated, isolated, and scared living under the enduring threat of being recalled to prison under the IPP regime.

Similar issues have been reported by other individuals also subject to IPP sentences. When giving evidence in court, Francis’ probation officer confirmed that she thought that the IPP sentence was “not used in the best way”. Similarly, when asked what could have been done to support Francis, a manager at the supported accommodation where Francis resided prior to his death said that the IPP regime was a “liberty” and that Francis should have been released from his IPP sentence. He said that despite Francis’ efforts to improve his circumstances, the IPP sentence was “clouding him and spoiling it”.

On 27 January 2023, Francis’ fears became reality after he was informed by his probation officer that he would likely be recalled to prison on an emergency basis, a rule which applies to all IPPs, more than 12 years after his initial release. In that conversation, he stated to his probation officer that he would rather take his own life than be recalled to prison that the police would find his body.

The probation officer was sufficiently concerned to immediately contact Sussex Police, confirming that she was reporting Francis as a missing and vulnerable person. She expressed in her evidence that she wanted the police to find him, take him off the streets and safeguard him. Despite being aware of Francis’ explicit and detailed threats to end his life, very little action was taken to locate and ensure that Francis was safe. After the police received the recall notification from probation, he was re-categorised as a wanted person on recall, as opposed to a missing and vulnerable person. The initial investigation was shut down before it was able to commence, meaning no tangible steps were taken by the police to locate Francis. He was sadly found the following afternoon, on 28 January, deceased in a tent in Bognor Regis, having taken his own life.

Francis was pronounced dead at 14:20 on 28 January 2023 and the cause of death has been confirmed as suicide.

On the verdict, Francis’ sister Suzanne Rodrigues said: “Today’s verdict sends an important message that more needs to be done in addressing the widespread issues that surround IPP sentences and raising awareness of the same. Francis lived a large portion of his life under an IPP sentence, battling the impact that this had on his day-to-day existence and his mental health. He was absolutely terrified of being recalled. As a family, we are keen to continue to raise awareness of the consequences of the IPP sentencing regime and the effect it continues to have on other individuals who are still in a similar position to the one Francis found himself in. Whilst nothing can bring my brother back, I do hope that lessons are learned and that in particular, the Ministry of Justice takes steps to re-evaluate the impact of IPP sentences on individuals and how vulnerable they are. IPP sentences are not just a sentence imposed on an individual but on that person’s entire family.”

Olivia Coffey, Solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen said: “This case is yet another example of how IPP sentences, despite being abolished as a sentencing provision, continue to have the propensity to destroy people’s lives and individuals are left languishing in our justice system, with no certainty regarding their futures. We have heard how Francis was afraid to engage with support for fear of being indefinitely recalled to prison. Francis was not given a death sentence in 2006, and yet he has suffered a horrific fate because of our broken justice system. The jury was clear that the IPP sentence contributed to or caused his death. It is so important that prisoners, particularly those on an IPP sentence, are treated as vulnerable people. This case highlights how important it is for the Probation Service, and the police, to be mindful of how vulnerable people in the same situation as Francis are. Whilst today’s verdict in relation to the impact the IPP sentence had on Francis is welcome, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure those who are still suffering from the long-term impacts of IPP sentences are protected and supported accordingly, particularly if the authorities are to prevent further tragedies such as this.”

The Coroner has indicated that he is considering sending a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Ministry of Justice to highlight concerns over the risks IPP poses to individuals.
IPP sentences were introduced by the Criminal Justice Act in 2003 and were given full effect in April 2005. The role of the sentence was to protect the public from offenders who had committed crimes that did not warrant a life sentence yet were serious enough to be of great concern to public safety. Once offenders have completed their minimum prison tariff, they can apply for parole, whereby they are monitored for at least 10 years and in many cases indefinitely.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced in July 2011 that the IPP sentence was “unclear and inconsistent”, following which it was subsequently abolished. Its main point of failure was that it had been more widely used than first intended, with some sentences issued to individuals who were only sentenced to two years or less in prison. Because of this, and the fact that the IPP sentences have not retrospectively been abolished, there are currently 6,500 individuals in the prison system still serving an IPP sentence to this day.

Further Reading