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Parole

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Police: Suspect No 1

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Colin Stacey has the letters H-A-T-E tattooed across the fingers of his right hand. In 1997, after an argument over football, he battered a man to death with a sockful of pool balls.

Stacey was jailed for life, but released from jail on licence in 2017. Within six months, a violent assault at a probation hostel saw him return to prison.

Now, he says he’s a changed man. He promises not to abuse drink or drugs. He just wants a quiet life with his dog, he insisted in the documentary Parole (BBC2).

In case the Parole Board isn’t convinced, he brought up his difficult childhood. Laying it on even thicker, making sure to sway the assessors’ sympathy, he pleaded that he wasn’t ‘in a good place’ when the murder was committed — but now he was mature, responsible and remorseful.

This programme, the first of five, revealed a crucial aspect of the law that few people see, and explained a great deal about why our legal system often seems insipid.

Colin Stacey (pictured) has the letters H-A-T-E tattooed across the fingers of his right hand. In 1997, after an argument over football, he battered a man to death with a sockful of pool balls

Colin Stacey (pictured) has the letters H-A-T-E tattooed across the fingers of his right hand. In 1997, after an argument over football, he battered a man to death with a sockful of pool balls

We’re all familiar with Old Bailey trials, condemning killers to life sentences. The Parole Board has none of that grandeur or gravitas. Members were more like driving examiners than judges. But these are the people who decide when murderers should be freed. They are every bit as influential as the figures in robes and horsehair wigs.

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Murder trials often last for weeks. Incredibly, after a hearing of two hours and 15 minutes, two Parole Board officials decided that Colin Stacey deserved his freedom. This was despite his admission that, around the time of the killing, he had also beaten his pregnant partner — headbutting her and kneeling on her chest.

The widow of Leigh Shaw, the man Stacey killed, was bitterly philosophical: ‘Leigh was never allowed to live, so why should he have his life back? I can’t dwell on it. Life’s not fair: I can rant and shout and scream but it won’t change anything.’

A second case tracked by the cameras gave us hope that the Parole Board isn’t always a push-over. David Coombs, a fraudster who targeted women he met through dating sites, pleaded that he, too, was a reformed character, weaving a cock-and-bull story about the emotional epiphany that made him change his lying ways.

He was refused parole — but was released this month in any case, after serving his four year sentence. Since he will not now be on probation, he won’t be supervised. Perhaps that’s even worse than letting him out early.

This programme, the first of five, revealed a crucial aspect of the law that few people see, and explained a great deal about why our legal system often seems insipid

This programme, the first of five, revealed a crucial aspect of the law that few people see, and explained a great deal about why our legal system often seems insipid

Stacey told the film-makers that parole is an essential part of punishment, because it gives convicts hope. Without hope, he said, men become dangerous. Surely that’s why they were locked up in the first place.

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If we can’t rely on justice, it is at least reassuring to know how stupid most criminals are. Police: Suspect No 1 (Ch5) followed an investigation into an aggravated burglary in Norfolk, where three yobs smashed their way into a house with baseball bats and demanded drugs.

Not only were they wearing distinctive branded clothing, but they had the wrong house — and this one was fitted with security cameras. Just to make the job of officers easier still, two of the gang hung around in a pub first, where CCTV picked up clear images of their faces.

Under arrest, one of the thugs couldn’t even be bothered to say ‘No comment’. He kept mumbling, ‘NC’.

That made little difference. ‘Criminals are always lying to us,’ said one copper. ‘It’s just a matter of telling the truth from the lies.’ It’s a shame the Parole Board isn’t always as worldly as the police.

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