Serious Further Offences (SFO) Annual report – assessments of risk of harm remain inaccurate and incomplete

HM Inspectorate of Probation has published its second annual report of Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews, finding that assessments of the risk of harm people on probation pose remain inaccurate and incomplete – not enough is being done to stop them reoffending and SFO reviews remain below the expected standard.

Serious Further Offences (SFOs) are specific violent and sexual offences like murder, manslaughter and rape committed by people who are, or were recently, under probation supervision. Over 500 SFOs are notified to HMPPS every year and for the victims and families affected the impact and consequences cannot be underestimated.

The vast majority of SFO reviews are conducted by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) itself. The Inspectorate is occasionally requested, by the Secretary of State for Justice, to conduct an independent SFO review, and has this year published reports into the review of the case of Damien Bendall and the review of the case of Jordan McSweeney.

For this annual report, we looked at 20 per cent (86 cases) of the SFO reviews conducted by local probation regions between April 2022 and April 2023 – 30 of these involved a serious further offence of murder, and 20 of rape. In comparison to last year’s findings, it was concerning to see that we have seen the percentage of reviews we rated as of either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ quality reduced from 69 to 52 per cent.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “It is disappointing to see the quality of satisfactory reviews of serious further offences conducted by the Probation Service reduce by nearly 20 per cent. It is clear, both from the SFO cases we have looked at and our own independent SFO reviews, that the Probation Service must strive to do a better job of consistently and accurately identifying the minority of people on probation at risk of causing serious harm. And learning the lessons from these very concerning incidents.

“This will involve using all available information, to properly assess and monitor risk, with public protection at the forefront of planning and decision making. I hope that our recommendations, and those from our recent independent SFO reviews, will mean improvements that future lead to high-quality probation services that can safeguard potential victims and keep people safe.”

Of the cases covered by the 86 SFO reviews we analysed, we found:

  • 44 per cent of the risk of harm assessments were inaccurate or incomplete
  • 42 per cent of the offences were committed by a person on probation who had been assessed as posing only a medium risk of serious harm before the offence happened. 44 per cent were committed by an individual assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm (this is up from 33 per cent last year)
  • 42 per cent were managed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).

Mr Russell continued: “It is very concerning that assessments for the risk of harm a person on probation may pose remain inaccurate, incorrect, or incomplete. It is clear that reduced staffing levels within local services continue to have an impact on the quality of work we are seeing, both in these serious further offence reviews and the findings from our local inspections. Once again, I call on HMPPS to ensure services have the staff they need in order to manage every person on probation actively and effectively to monitor any risk of reoffending.”

This annual report makes a number of recommendations for improving the quality of SFO reviews, including revising the operating model used to produce them and maximising the way that learning is shared.

Notes to editor

  1. Following our thematic inspection of Serious Further Offence reviews published in May 2020, the Secretary of State for Justice asked us to undertake a quality assurance role of serious further offence reviews completed by His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
  2. Further information can be found on the HMI Probation website, including a link to how serious further offence reviews are undertaken and a link to a list of previous independent serious further offence reviews.
  3. Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) replaced Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS), which merged into a unified Probation Service in June 2021.
  4. This report is available at on 15 June 2023 00.01.
  5. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  6. For media enquiries, please contact (E-mail address)