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Mother of Nottingham attacks victim joins calls to overhaul murder laws

Barnaby Webber was 19 when he was murdered in Nottingham (Nottinghamshire Police/PA)
Barnaby Webber was 19 when he was murdered in Nottingham (Nottinghamshire Police/PA)

The mother of one of triple killer Valdo Calocane’s victims has joined calls for the Government to overhaul murder laws in the wake of the Nottingham attacks.

Emma Webber said it was “abhorrent” murder charges were not pursued against her son Barnaby’s killer, while the watchdog’s findings drew criticism from campaigners who described them as a “missed opportunity”.

A review of the actions taken by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) found prosecutors were right to accept a plea of manslaughter by diminished responsibility from Calocane, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the findings did highlight areas where the CPS could have handled the case “better”.

Valdo Calocane court case
Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar were killed by Valdo Calocane (Nottinghamshire Police/PA)

The watchdog’s report, ordered by Attorney General Victoria Prentis, instead called on ministers to consider re-categorising homicide laws, as recommended by the Law Commission nearly 20 years ago, to make three tiers of charges available to prosecutors – first degree and second degree murder, as well as manslaughter.

Speaking to reporters after the findings were published on Monday, Mrs Webber said the families were “disappointed but not entirely surprised”, adding that “until the law changes in this country, the diminished responsibility charge and plea means that murderers can get away with murder.”

The relatives of Calocane’s victims “never disputed” his mental health problems, she said, as she added: “What I would say is that at the moment in this country, if you commit murder and you’ve got mental health issues, then it’s very unlikely that you are going to be tried for murder and it’s abhorrent that it could be downgraded to manslaughter just because it is how the law is stated”.

Valdo Calocane court case
Barnaby Webber’s mother Emma Webber called for law changes after he was killed (Jacob King/PA)

Dr Sanjoy Kumar, father of victim Grace O’Malley-Kumar, told reporters: “I think the first question you have to ask… is: can a paranoid schizophrenic commit murder in this country?

“Because it seems to me that you can’t, and that’s impossible for us to understand.”

Julian Hendy, the director of the Hundred Families charity that supports the relatives of the victims of mentally ill killers, described the findings as “very disappointing” and questioned whether the watchdog had “critically evaluated the evidence”, adding: “They appear to have accepted without question or challenge what they have been told.

“There are serious questions about the quality of evidence and decision-making in this case that remain unanswered.

“This report is clearly a missed opportunity. It will do little to reassure the affected families that agencies are really learning from this tragedy.”

Calocane was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order last month for stabbing to death university students Mr Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar, both 19, as well as school caretaker Ian Coates, 65, in the early hours of June 13 last year.

He admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility as well as pleading guilty to the attempted murder of three people who were hit by a van stolen from Mr Coates.

There was an outcry of anger from the victims’ families after prosecutors decided not to pursue murder charges for Calocane, prompting Ms Prentis to order the review of how the CPS handled the case and ask the Court of Appeal to review the sentence.

Valdo Calocane
Valdo Calocane was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order (Nottinghamshire Police/PA)

Inspectors found that if the Law Commission’s 2006 recommendations on homicide charges had been accepted and implemented, “the unlawful killings in this tragic case would have been categorised as murder, albeit second degree murder”.

Setting out his findings to reporters, Anthony Rogers, chief inspector of His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), said: “In this case, Calocane would have been charged with second degree murder, and obviously the family find it really difficult to understand how somebody who went out knowingly to kill people is not a murderer”.

He added: “The families told us that it matters to them greatly that … pleas to manslaughter were accepted, even though he actually murdered their children.”

Such changes would be a “sensible manifesto commitment” in an election year, he said, as he also called for a “fundamental re-think” of the role of victims in the criminal justice system.

“The narrative putting the victims at the heart of the criminal justice system is leading to false expectations”, he said, adding: “The Government needs to consider what role victims have in the criminal justice system because the narrative out there is very unhelpful.”

According to the report, the watchdog said: “In this case, we conclude that the CPS charging decision was correct, that the acceptance of the pleas of not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter was correct, and generally the CPS met their obligations set out in the Victims’ Code and the Bereaved Family Scheme.

“But the experience of the families is such that they felt unsupported and secondary to the whole process.”

Dr Sanjoy Kumar, father of Grace O’Malley-Kumar
Dr Sanjoy Kumar, father of Grace O’Malley-Kumar (PA)

There were “a number of aspects where the CPS could have handled this case better”, the findings said, as it set out problems with how prosecutors communicated with the families of Calocane’s victims and the language used to discuss decisions being made.

The report acknowledged the watchdog’s findings would be “disappointing for the families”, adding: “They were clear when we met with them that they felt let down, that they had no voice, and that they had been treated as secondary parties in the criminal justice system.”

The case “brings into stark relief the disconnect that can exist between the reality of being in the system and what support there is available”, the report said, adding that the families’ concerns and the “public disquiet about this case highlights aspects where further consideration is needed”, as it set out how the Government should act.

Responding to the watchdog’s report, director of public prosecutions Stephen Parkinson said: “In tragic and complex circumstances such as these, the CPS has difficult decisions to make but must always act with independence and professionalism.

“I believe that our team did so in this case, and with considerable dedication and commitment.

“We will carefully consider the report’s findings.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously promised the victims’ families that “we will get the answers” but their calls for a public inquiry have so far gone unanswered.

Other investigations into the actions of police and mental health staff continue.

The families previously said they were due to meet police watchdog the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) – which is investigating both Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire forces over their handling of the case – on Tuesday.