Barrie James SKINNER - 18/04/2016
Under section 21(2) of the Parole Act 2002
Barrie James SKINNER
Hearing: 18 April 2016 at [withheld]
Members of the Board:
Mr N Trendle – Panel Convenor
Ms F Pimm
Mr B McMurray
DECISION OF THE BOARD
1. Barrie James Skinner is making his second appearance before the Board on a sentence of eight years six months imprisonment following his conviction on 80 charges of dishonestly using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage, seven counts of wilfully attempting to pervert the course of justice and five charges of knowingly providing false information to the Inland Revenue. There are four years nine months remaining on his sentence with his statutory release date being 19 January 2021.
2. This is Mr Skinner’s first time in prison and his first recorded offending. He has a RoC*RoI of 0.19218.
3. When Mr Skinner first appeared before for parole to be considered, the Board noted his complete lack of insight into his offending. Parole was declined and the Board recommended that he participate in the Short Motivational Programme. Since then, Mr Skinner has successfully completed that programme. He has prepared a safety plan. For the last two months he has been working outside the wire as a hostel cleaner in the [withheld].
4. Mr Skinner was represented by his counsel [withheld] who made submissions in support of his release on parole. [withheld] advised that Mr Skinner’s appeals against conviction have now been dealt with, though there is one remaining issue which is before the Supreme Court with respect to the five counts involving the false returns of income. Mr Skinner accepted, however, that that was not relevant to the issues before the Board. It would make no difference to his sentence. So far as prison based programmes were concerned, there was nothing further identified, nor any remaining needs that could be addressed in prison. Counsel submitted that there was no need in his case for Mr Skinner to go through a reintegration process prior to his return to the community. He had strong support from his family. Those links had remained unbroken while he was in prison. He had somewhere to go and live. He had support.
5. [withheld] submitted that Mr Skinner was not an undue risk to the community. Prison itself had been a deterrent. He was bankrupt and would not return to his former area of employment. Any residual matters could be dealt with in the community and subject to oversight by Community Corrections and the Parole Board.
6. In discussing the Short Motivational Programme, Mr Skinner told us that he had spent time exploring his previous unhelpful lifestyle balance and recognised the effect it had on him. He had also spent his time in prison reviewing where he had gone wrong. He was determined to make changes to his lifestyle as a result.
7. In view of the comments made in the Board’s last decision, we explored at some length with Mr Skinner how he viewed his offending in light of the work he had done. Whilst he accepted the Court’s finding that he had been dishonest, had been involved in an attempt to pervert justice and committed perjury, he continued to prefer the expression that he had “got it wrong”. He seemed to us to be invested in the view that he honestly believed that the taxation advice he gave his clients was within the law, but now accepted the finding of the Court that it was not. When asked directly, he conceded that he had been dishonest, but the Board was left with the strong impression that concession was made as a consequence of his perception that the courts had determined that his taxation advice was wrong, rather than due to any moral obloquy on his part.
8. Mr Skinner’s rehabilitation needs were identified in the parole assessment report as “offender supportive attitudes and entitlement” and “unhelpful lifestyle balance”. Those needs were confirmed by the Short Motivational Programme facilitator at the commencement of the programme. The report records that Mr Skinner made good progress with respect to addressing issues of lifestyle imbalance, but there is very little indication that he confronted the factors that contributed to his other identified offending need.
9. When he first appeared before the Board, the decision records that he “continued to display a breathtaking lack of insight into not only his offending, but also the fundamental distinction between honesty and dishonesty.” Despite having completed his offence chain in the course of the Short Motivational Programme, the Board is of the firm view that Mr Skinner has yet to gain that insight. For example:
• In the current parole assessment report, he is recorded as still holding the view “that he thought what he was doing was right and legal.” He would not return to his field of expertise “due to the price of getting it wrong is too high.”
• The report on his completion of the Short Motivational Programme records that while Mr Skinner accepted that at the time of his offending he had an unhelpful lifestyle balance, “[h]e did not agree with the presence of any other rehabilitative needs. When exploring the offence, Mr Skinner emphasised the changes in legal interpretations rather then the offending itself.” When exploring the barriers to change and the problem thinking, he ”could not identify the presence of any unhelpful thinking patterns that contributed to his offending.”
• In his written submissions to the Board, Mr Skinner described the Short Motivational Programme as dealing with lifestyle balance. He had also taken the opportunity to read material on “mindfulness” which assisted him in his understanding of living a more mindful and balanced lifestyle. With respect to his offending, he simply observed: “I have accepted my offending and I clearly understand the seriousness of my convictions.” In his earlier submission he acknowledged that he recommended to his clients how payments could be treated for tax purposes. “On that basis if the treatment was wrong, it would therefore be me that got it wrong.”
• In his responses to our questions about his offending and what he learnt about himself on the Short Motivational Programme, Mr Skinner appeared to remain fixed in his view that whilst he takes responsibility for what the Court held was his dishonest and unlawful conduct, it was ultimately due to his misinterpretation of the tax laws rather than a fundamental departure from basic standards of probity on his part.
• In the report on his completion of the Short Motivational Programme, the facilitator recorded that Mr Skinner’s work centred around lifestyle balance “as this was the need that he agreed with and wanted to focus on. Mr Skinner is encouraged to work with his Case Manager and/or Probation Officer around identifying whether there was the presence of any further rehabilitative need.” Before us today, Mr Skinner told us that he and his Case Manager had been unable to identify any other rehabilitative need.
• Mr Skinner told us that he had spent a lot of time analysing where things had gone wrong. He read to us from a list of things that, with hindsight, he should have done differently. The list was confined essentially to matters of process, such as better communication with clients. There was nothing to suggest that he understood that the goal of tax compliance should not be achieved through criminal conduct.
10. In our view, the “gaping disconnect” referred to in the Board’s last decision remains unaddressed. It is a matter of considerable concern that having had the opportunity to confront that issue, Mr Skinner has chosen not to. His risk to the safety of the community remains elevated.
11. We have turned our mind to whether that risk can be managed in the community. Counsel, [withheld], made additional submissions in closing emphasising that Mr Skinner was unlikely to access any further intervention in prison; that his rehabilitation needs could be better dealt with in the community; that he would co-operate with his Probation Officer; that any risk to the public could be controlled; that Mr Skinner would continue to be held accountable in the community; and that in the bail context Justice Kos regarded his risk of reoffending as “improbable”. We have taken account of those submissions. We also record that Mr Skinner told us that he would comply with any other special release conditions the Board may consider imposing, such as a restriction on his giving taxation or financial advice, that he would not engage in any business undertaking without approval, or that he would not handle other people’s money without the approval of his Probation Officer. We also take account of the strong suport he has available from [withheld]. [withheld] told us that he would have additional support through access to psychological counselling that she had arranged.
12. We have concluded, by some margin, that before we could be satisfied that Mr Skinner’s release would not pose an undue risk to the safety of the community, he needs to make progress in the prison environment in addressing the “gaping disconnect” between his understanding of the nature of his offending and the views expressed by the sentencing Judge who described his interaction with the Probation Officer compiling his pre-sentence report as showing “a breathtaking lack of insight” into his offending. He still seems quite unable to grasp the criminality in his involvement in the creation of false invoices, his subsequent counselling of clients to provide false explanations when the investigation by Inland Revenue caused the scheme to unravel, his giving perjured testimony to the Court, and the production in evidence of an exhibit which he knew had been deliberately tampered with in the days before his trial.
13. In short, there is more work for Mr Skinner to do to meet the second rehabilitation need that was identified in the parole assessment report and the Short Motivational Programme before the Board could consider he meets the statutory criteria for parole.
14. How that rehabilitation need is met we leave to Mr Skinner to discuss with his Case Manager. Mr Skinner’s PCO said there were no other programmes identified for him in the prison environment. We briefly considered whether psychological treatment would be appropriate, but concluded, in light of his participation in the Short Motivational Programme, that it would not. It may be that Mr Skinner would benefit from participating in the Short Rehabilitation Programme where his views might be tested and challenged in a group environment. Ultimately, how Mr Skinner is to address this outstanding rehabilitation need is a matter he can work through with his Case Manager.
15. Thereafter, the Board would expect to see a period of reintegration where Mr Skinner’s probity is tested through various reintegration activities such as Self Care and Release to Work. We note the report that at present he is working well at the [withheld]. He needs to be tested outside the prison environment.
16. Parole today is declined. Mr Skinner will be scheduled to return to the Board in April next year, by 30 April 2017. We are of the view that will be the minimum period required for Mr Skinner to accept and address the identified rehabilitation need and to undertake a period of consolidation and testing.
Mr N Trendle