A probation officer missed opportunities which could have saved the life of a woman who was killed by a convicted murderer, a coroner has said.
Janet Scott was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Simon Mellors, who had been released from prison on licence after he murdered another former partner.
Mrs Scott’s inquest has heard Mellors obsessively stalked her – online and in person – before the murder.
The coroner said he therefore could have been sent back to prison.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that a number of opportunities were missed by the offender manager [probation officer] during the critical period,” said Jonathan Straw, assistant coroner for Nottinghamshire, in his findings.
“This is when the imminent risk that Simon Mellors presented to Janet should have been both realised and acted upon.
“These missed opportunities have, on the balance of probabilities, made a significant contribution to Janet’s death.”
However, he said the “direct responsibility” for Mrs Scott’s death “sits solely and squarely with Simon Mellors”.
Mellors killed Mrs Scott on 29 January 2018 by driving his car into her in Nottingham city centre, after stabbing the 51-year-old mother-of-six at her home in Arnold.
He was charged with murder but killed himself in prison.
Mrs Scott did not know Mellors was a convicted murderer when she met him in a Nottingham pub on a night out with her sister in April 2017.
He had to tell her about the murder as a condition of his licence, after being released from prison in 2014. The inquest has heard that two previous girlfriends had split up with Mellors after finding out, but Mrs Scott stayed with him.
She eventually ended their relationship around the start of January 2018. Mr Straw said the “critical period” when opportunities were missed was between 12 January and 28 January.
During this time, Mellors continued to contact Mrs Scott and also turned up at the supermarket where she worked several times.
Mrs Scott had complained to Mellors’ probation officer Andrew Victor about this. Mr Victor told the inquest he had regarded this behaviour as harassment at the time, but now recognised it as stalking after receiving training.
The coroner said Mr Victor had “placed too much reliance on the effectiveness of his own personal authority to manage Simon Mellors’ risk”, and “was too accepting of the information and assurances given to him by Simon Mellors”.
Unbeknown to the probation officer, Mellors had searched for “men who murder two women in the UK” in the early hours of 21 January.
He had also been doing numerous internet searches for Mrs Scott and her husband Chris Scott, who she had rekindled her relationship with.
Mr Straw concluded Mrs Scott had been unlawfully killed by murder, and her medical cause of death was catastrophic multiple injuries.
Mrs Scott’s children, husband, sister and brother-in-law said they blame the probation service for failing to send Mellors back to prison.
In a statement read out before the coroner gave his findings, Chris Scott said: “I can only hope that my wife did not die in vain and lessons can be learned to stop such atrocities being repeated.”
One of her sons, Jonathan, also said he hopes lessons can be learned, describing his mother as “a sacrificial lamb to the idea that everybody deserves a second chance”.
“I’m of the opinion that the probation service is responsible for what happened to my mother,” he said.
“My mother’s senseless death cannot be for nothing.”
Mr Victor, who has been a probation officer since 1990, was suspended after Mrs Scott’s death and had a disciplinary hearing but the charges were not proved.
However, the Ministry of Justice told the BBC he is “no longer in a role supervising offenders in the community”.
Chief probation officer Sonia Flynn CBE also apologised to Mrs Scott’s family, saying: “This was a truly horrific crime and the decision-making was well below what I expect of an experienced probation officer, for which I sincerely apologise to Janet Scott’s family.
“Since that dreadful day in 2018, we have introduced specialist training on coercive control and stalking and recruited an extra 1,300 staff into the National Probation Service to help better protect the public.”
Mellors was released from prison around the same time probation was split in two and partly-privatised as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
As a result, the coroner said Mr Victor’s caseload was “significantly higher than it should have been” when he was managing Mellors.
The inquest heard Mr Victor had told his employer he was overwhelmed by his caseload and stressed, and that his mental health was suffering as a result.
The coroner said Mr Victor was therefore “limited in the time he was able to spend on each case and with each offender” and that this “inevitably impacted upon the quality of his decision-making”.
Mr Straw said he did not believe work pressures had contributed to Mr Victor’s failures during the “critical period” before Mrs Scott’s death, but it “undoubtedly impacted to a degree on earlier decisions and assessments regarding Simon Mellors”.