Parole changes ‘a fitting legacy’ for murdered Michelle

Family of Michelle Stewart pleased with parole changes, but say there's more work to be done.

Parole changes ‘a fitting legacy’ for murdered Michelle STV News
Kenny Stewart and his daughter Michelle.

The family of a murdered teenager have hailed changes to the parole system as a victory in their quest to honour her legacy.

Michelle Stewart was 17-years-old when she was stabbed to death in the street in her home village of Drongan, Ayrshire, by ex-boyfriend John Wilson.

Since her death, her family have been campaigning for Michelle’s Law – and from March 1 families have been able to apply for a report explaining why a killer has been released on parole.

Wilson is currently serving a life sentence for the 2008 murder and on Friday was denied a bid to be released.

Michelle’s father Kenny said: “We were worried he was going to get out… it was quite nervous for a couple of weeks.

“But now we finally have the decision we’re over the moon with it. We thought ‘for once, Michelle has got some justice’.”

Kenny said: “We just want a bit of dignity for victims of crime because the scales were tipped the other way as far as we were concerned.

“The parole board became a closed shop, they wouldn’t have to answer to anybody. But now we have a bit of transparency, so we think we’re on the right track.

“We’ll obviously keep fighting for more power for victims. It’s been a slow start but things are beginning now to pick up.”

From next year, the family hopes dangerous prisoners will be prevented from entering exclusion zones with the use of electronic tags.

He said: “Previously, people had been released from jail in the same neighbourhood.

“It’s the victim’s families who get the life sentence, not the prisoner.

“We’ll just have to keep plugging away… it’s looking good.

“It’s not all been in vain. Michelle will never come back but she’s on our minds every day… she’ll never be forgotten. I’m quite sure she’s looking down on us and she’d be really pleased.”

‘Stressful and traumatising’

Dr Katrina Morrison, lecturer in criminology at Edinburgh Napier University and board member of Howard League Scotland, said: “Historically [victims] have been very marginalised, on the sidelines and in relation to parole, often finding out about things after the event.

“It’s hugely stressful and re-traumatising for them… we can all have huge sympathy for that. There is quite a lot of public misunderstanding about parole, though, as well.

“It’s important to remember that the parole process isn’t another court of law.

“It isn’t a point at which we can express our huge hurt and dismay at this crime and all of these kind of things – that is a separate process. So sometimes those things can sit at odds with each other.”

‘Victims at heart of the justice system’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the family and friends of Ms Stewart.

“The justice secretary has been grateful for the opportunity to meet members of Ms Stewart’s family on a number of occasions, to hear their experiences and to act on their concerns.

“Ministers pledged to simplify and modernise parole, making it more easily understood and visible to everyone, and will undertake a rewrite of Parole Board rules this year to do that. 

“We have already amended the rules to make it clear that the board is able to publish a summary of its decisions, while also providing for a defined process for victims and their families to observe parole hearings. These amendments came into force on March 1.

“We are absolutely clear that addressing the needs of victims should be at the heart of the justice system.

“Victims and their families are able to make representations to the Parole Board under the Victims Notification Scheme, the Parole Board can permit the families of victims to attend hearings as observers, and they can already set exclusion zones as a condition of parole licence and those zones can be electronically monitored.”