Early release prisoner jailed indefinitely

THE Government has improved its checks for prisoners who are given early release after a violent Suffolk man stabbed his pregnant girlfriend just hours after being allowed to walk free from jail.

Jane Hunt

THE Government has improved its checks for prisoners who are given early release after a violent Suffolk man stabbed his pregnant girlfriend just hours after being allowed to walk free from jail.

Derek Burns was let out after serving just over two weeks of a 16-week sentence for assaulting his mother-in-law and went straight back to Bury St Edmunds - where he plunged a 25cm knife into 23-year-old Leigh-Anne Hammond's back in front of their four hysterical children.

Yesterday, on the day that a judge branded Burns a “dangerous offender” and locked him up indefinitely, Prime Minister Gordon Brown assured changes had been made.

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Burns was on an End of Custody License scheme - which is available to prisoners whose offences are not considered serious enough by the court to justify a long term of imprisonment.

Miss Hammond, who suffered a punctured lung in the attack, was in court to see the 46-year-old defendant sentenced.

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After the hearing she said he should never have been released early and criticised the authorities for not warning her he had been freed.

“This happened the day after his early release and I didn't even know he was out,” she said. “There was no warning- he was just there. I have spoken to the police and I hope in future I will be told when he is released and other people in the same position as me will be told as well.”

Burns was told he would serve at least two years before being considered for parole and would only be freed when he was no longer considered a danger to the public.

“I was pregnant at the time with my fifth child and I don't think that (the sentence) reflects anything,” Miss Hammond said. “I would like him to serve at least five years.”

The young mother said she had thought she was going to be killed when she saw Burns open a kitchen drawer that she knew only contained knives. “It was really scary,” she said.

Sentencing Burns, Judge David Goodin, described the attack as “vicious” and said it showed his inability to control the violence “smouldering” in him.

Burns, who had shared a home in Baldwin Avenue, Bury St Edmunds, with Miss Hammond and their children denied wounding her with intent to cause her grievous bodily harm on December 15 but was found guilty last month by a jury. He admitted an offence of making a threat to kill Miss Hammond's new boyfriend.

During the trial Ipswich Crown Court heard that Burns had been jailed on November 27 last year for 16 weeks for drink driving and assaulting Miss Hammond's mother.

But he was released just over two weeks later - unbeknown to Miss Hammond and her family.

He then accused Miss Hammond of having an affair while he was in prison and during a blazing row at their home had grabbed a kitchen knife and plunged it into her back.

Miss Hammond, who was five months pregnant, ran barefoot from the house in her pyjamas and was taken to hospital suffering from a punctured lung after collapsing in the street.

During the trial she said their four children - aged five, four, two and one - had been screaming hysterically after witnessing the attack and at one stage her four-year-old son had climbed on to Burns' back.

Hugh Vass, for Burns, said his client had been motivated by “rage and jealousy” and realised that he would have to learn to control his feelings and his use of alcohol if he was to stand any chance of ever seeing his children again.

He said although Burns had previous convictions for violence he had never used a weapon before.

“This was a weapon he picked up in a moment of emotional distress and he bitterly regrets the way he behaved,” he said. “It was a foolish thing to do to go round there. He was advised not to go but he went all the same.”

Referring to Burns' claim that he warned the prison authorities about what he was going to do if he was released, Mr Vass said: “There is no indication he said anything to anyone before his release. Why would he say to them, 'If you let me out I'm going to kill someone'? Why would he say it? It isn't sensible.”

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