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Calocane case puts manslaughter pleas into focus

When prosecutors announced that manslaughter pleas had been accepted from Valdo Calocane for the Nottingham attacks, they said the decision was taken after consultation with the victims’ families.

But the families were angry because this gave the false impression that they had agreed with the decision.

Emma Webber, mother of victim Barnaby, said the families had been presented with a “fait accompli” when told of this decision last November, adding they had been “railroaded”.

She and relatives of school caretaker Ian Coates who was also stabbed to death in the attack had been angry the lesser offence of manslaughter was accepted.

Mr Coates’ son James said the offender had “got away with murder”.

The issue of accepting manslaughter pleas in homicide cases is often difficult.

Relatives of victims can be left feeling that not only has the offender refused to accepted responsibility for the killing, they have also received a more lenient sentence as a result.

In the case of Calocane, the victims’ families alos pointed to missed opportunities.

He had been detained four times under the Mental Health Act.

He assaulted a police officer and was charged but failed to appear in court while on bail. Although a bench warrant was issued it was never executed and he remained at large for nine months until he carried out the killings.

Grace’s father said his family will continue to look for answers

Ms Webber said Nottinghamshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Rob Griffin had blood on his hands for this failure.

“If you had just done your job properly, there’s a very good chance my beautiful boy would be alive today,” she said.

Sanjoy Kumar, father of Grace O’Malley-Kumar, said his family will continue to look for answers.

Meanwhile, his Irish-born wife Dr Sinéad O’Malley called for mandatory prison terms for anyone found in possession of a knife.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, a former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, supported calls for an inquiry.

If an inquiry was to be held, it would have to examine how to cope with offenders experiencing mental health issues.

Assistant Chief Constable Griffin has pointed out that even if Calocane was arrested, it was unlikely he would have been put into prison given his mental illness and given that he refused to co-operate with the mental health services, there would be little they could do under current laws.

Then, there are problems regarding a lack of resources in relation to police numbers and prison facilities.

In his sentencing, Mr Justice Turner explained in detail the constraints he was dealing with given the law as it stands.

But the thrust of his judgement was that he wanted to put Calocane away for as long as possible.

All the psychiatrists who examined Calocane – including those called by the prosecution – were of the belief that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was experiencing a psychotic episode when he attacked his victims.

This meant he could not be held liable for murder.

Calocane had a history of hearing voices, believing he was under surveillance by MI5 or under the control of AI.

He said voices in his head were telling him to kill or his family would be hurt.

Ms Webber’s son was Barnaby killed in the attack

The victims’ families said he had shown premeditation by collecting weapons.

However, the judge said this was part of his paranoid delusion alongside his refusal to take medication as he believed the voices were real.

Calocane continues to deny he has a mental illness.

The judge said there were no other motives for the attacks except his mental illness.

Given all these factors, the judge pointed out that under sentencing guidelines Calocane is considered to have a low level of responsibility for his actions.

He said all other things being equal, Calocone would expect to receive a sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 13 years and four months.

But the judge said this was not such a case, adding “I consider that, regardless of the level of your personal responsibility, you were and remain dangerous”.

Explaining his decision to impose a hospital order rather than prison, the judge explained this would mean the defendant was under medical supervision and less of a threat to the public.

There were significant concerns that putting Calocone in prison would pose a risk to prison officers

If Calocone was in prison and later released, he would be under the care of the probation service who would not have the powers or training to intervene quickly if there was a deterioration.

There were also significant concerns that putting Calocone in prison would pose a risk to prison officers and fellow prisoners.

In the dock, Calocane appeared very different to the police mug shot issued after the attacks.

He was dressed in a suit and open-necked shirt, cleanshaven and wearing glasses looking more like the version of himself who graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2022 than a frenzied killer.

Some relatives cried during the hearing, but Calocane showed no emotion as he was told to stand and receive a sentence of an indefinite hospital order.

There was very little sympathy for Calocane when he was led away to Ashworth Hospital where he was told he will “very probably” spend the rest of his life.

It is the same hospital where Ian Brady – the so-called Moors Murderer who with his partner Myra Hindley murdered five children in the 1960s- spent the last 32 years of his life.

It will cost the taxpayer a lot of money to keep Calocane there. The annual cost was estimated at around £30,000 (€35,000) a year per prisoner in 2013 compared to almost £50,000 (€58,000) in 2023.

Calocane still has a remote chance of release if he recovers from his illness and the Secretary of State for Justice agrees to his release. It is hard to envisage any future Justice Secretary doing so.

However, such prisoners have been released in the past.

Barry Williams killed five people and injured three more in the Midlands during a psychotic episode in 1978. Pleas of guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility were accepted by the prosecution.

He was detained in Ashworth Hospital but released after just 15 years when he was judged to no longer pose a threat to the public. He changed his name, married and had a child.

It was only after he waged a six-year campaign of harassment against his next-door neighbours that the police discovered who he was. They raided his house where they found a gun, ammunition and a bomb.

He was sent back to Ashworth Hospital where he was detained for another 11 years before he died in 2014.

Other cases of hospital orders imposed for killings have occurred including the man who killed his housemate Thomas Murphy from Co Limerick.

The man stabbed Mr Murphy 34 times in a row over a broken plate and is also in a high security hospital. Mr Murphy’s family also believe that they did not get justice.

And there are more cases pending in the legal system.

If Calocane had received a whole-life order, which is available to judges in Britain, he would not have any chance of release.

Nurse Lucy Letby, who murdered seven infants, received a whole-life order.

However, this is only an option for someone convicted of murder and Calocane is only guilty of manslaughter.

Attorney General Victoria Prentis is currently reviewing a submission that Calocone’s sentence is too lenient.

She has 28 days to decide whether it is appropriate or to refer it to the Court of Appeal.

However, from the judgement given in the case and how the law stands it is hard to see how the sentence could be changed.

Nevertheless, there is a growing number of people who feel let down by the system that is meant to protect them.

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