Bail absconder prompts police review

Police have announced a full review of their procedures in requesting bail conditions for serious offenders after admitting failures in the system which allowed a serious sex offender to flee the country just days before his trial.

Police have announced a full review of their procedures in requesting bail conditions for serious offenders after admitting failures in the system which allowed a serious sex offender to flee the country just days before his trial.

Christopher Brown has still not been found almost a month after a judge at Norwich Crown Court sentenced him to 13 years in jail for offences relating to two girls.

A senior policeman in the Norfolk force said no one was keeping tabs on Brown's whereabouts in the days leading up to his trial as there were no conditions attached to his bail, leaving him free to abscond without their knowledge.

An anonymous phone call on the morning of the trial on January 19 was the first they knew that 58-year-old Brown, who was then convicted in his absence of three counts of rape, four indecent assaults and another serious sexual offence on the girls between 1983 and 1989, was planning to leave the country. He is thought to be somewhere in Eastern Europe.

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Det Insp Matt Sharman, from Norfolk police's child abuse investigation unit, said he would ask for an immediate review to look at their procedures involving serious cases.

“Looking back, I wish there had been conditions attached to his bail that prevented him from going,” he said. “It should be an automatic condition in serious cases to surrender passports and we should make it a rule that we ask the courts for this to be done.”

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Det Insp Sharman said the fact that Brown, who had various addresses

in King's Lynn, Stoke Ferry and Methwold and worked as a courier, had responded to bail several times since he was initially arrested and charged meant he was not regarded at risk of absconding.

“At the moment we can ask that bail conditions are imposed, but there are restrictions and there have to be definite grounds, such as if the offender is likely to interfere with witnesses. The seriousness of the offence is not taken into consideration - we would look at someone's motives for going. We are bailing people for serious offences all the time and it is quite unusual to have someone skip.”

Andrew Baxter, spokesman for the CPS, said it was difficult to justify legally any bail conditions.

He said: “There was no background information or a record of previously failing to attend at court which would have justified other conditions

such as residence, reporting, sureties, surrendering passports etc - conditions commonly used to ensure defendants attend at court. It is easy to look at a case with 20:20 hindsight and ask why conditions like these were not in existence, but with the information available at the time, conditions tackling the surrendering to the court were not thought to be necessary.”

But a spokesman for the probation service said that Brown failed to make an appointment to meet a probation officer for pre-sentence reports.

She said: “It is very rare for a person on bail to abscond and

most people turn up for their appointments. If they don't, it is more likely they won't turn up for their court hearing.”

It appears that the police were not alerted to this and it was not until

the morning of the trial that they realised Brown was no longer in the country.

Det Insp Sharman said they would have had no contact with Brown leading up to the trial: “At that time he was still considered an innocent man; no one was actually keeping tabs on where he was - no alarm bells were ringing. We found out he was planning to skip from an anonymous message, but we haven't traced who that was. I can see that from an outsider's point of view it makes sense to ask for conditions but it does not seem unusual from our position.”

He said border and immigration controls would not have been made aware of the fact that Brown was awaiting trial when he left the country as he still had his passport.

And despite the fact police initially said they did not believe he posed a threat to the public, Det Insp Sharman admitted that any sex offender had the potential to reoffend.

Henry Bellingham, MP for

North-West Norfolk, said it was “staggering beyond belief” that tougher restrictions were not imposed on Brown when he was bailed.

He said: “I will be writing to the lord chancellor Jack Straw... this is one more example of the criminal justice system letting people down and the government needs to get a grip.”

Information on Christopher Brown's whereabouts to Det Con Hayley Gleave on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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