Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Naomi Bryant murder: Mother calls for offender reforms

When Naomi Bryant was found dead by her 14-year-old daughter at her Winchester home it devastated her whole family.

But when it was revealed she had been murdered by a convicted sex attacker who had "duped authorities" into releasing him on licence after 15 years of a life sentence they wanted answers.

Anthony Rice received another life term for the 2005 murder but because inquests are not usually held after criminal proceedings the family were unlikely to ever know the full facts of his release.

But with help from civil rights organisation Liberty, Naomi's mother Verna Bryant made a successful case for a full hearing under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act which says that where the state may have failed to protect a life a full investigation must take place.

After a six-week hearing at Winchester Crown Court the jury recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

Coroner Grahame Short said the case had been a "wake up call" to all the agencies involved and said he will be making recommendations at a later date.

'Stricter monitoring'

Her mother said: "[The inquest] has been very important because so many things need changing and so many things have come to light.

Image caption Naomi Bryant was found stabbed and strangled with a pair of tights

"People who are as dangerous as Anthony Rice, mentally sick as Anthony Rice, shouldn't be let free."

Speaking about the memories of her daughter Verna said: "She was very artistic, very bossy, she loved an argument.

"I called her contrary Mary because if you told her to wear a coat she said 'I won't need to', if you told her don't wear a coat she'll say 'I will if I want to'."

Verna, 72, has called for better training of staff in the probation and prison services, stricter monitoring of offenders and a better system of storing and circulating records.

'Block it out'

The inquest heard how forensic psychologist Julia Long felt Rice had "made good progress" during a 12-month sex offenders' treatment programme and she recommended him to be transferred to an open prison in 2001.

Image caption Rice is serving a life sentence for the murder in 2005

But Ms Long said she had not seen documents that revealed Rice had previously sexually assaulted a five-year-old girl and had had previous psychiatric treatment, which she said would have been relevant to the decision to release him.

Jurors were also told how Rice behaved inappropriately to female staff once he was transferred to Elderfield probation hostel near Winchester and sneaked out at night and attacked a woman with a brick.

Despite this he was later transferred to a halfway house at the end of June 2005 with greater freedom.

Less than two months later he killed 40-year-old Naomi.

"This is still going on, people are still coming out of jail and reoffending, it hasn't stopped after Naomi's death," Verna said.

'Catalogue of failings'

"You will probably never stop it but I hope [this case] will improve the system, and they have already said they have changed things. It is a stepping stone in the right direction."

Hampshire probation service has said it has made a number of improvements since the death, including putting in place new training procedures.

Six years on Naomi's family, including her daughter, now 19, are still coming to terms with her murder.

Image caption Her mother said Naomi was artistic and loved to act

"It affected her daughter most because she was only 14 when she found the body, she couldn't go back into her own home," Verna said.

"[But] she is a survivor too, she gets on with life.

"My daughters don't talk about it, well they ask me how the inquest is going but they don't want to be here, they block it out."

Liberty has hailed the case as a landmark in recognising the human rights of victims of crime rather than criminals.

Emma Norton, solicitor for the group, said: "What this inquest has shown is that the Human Rights Act has been used by the victim's family to get a full inquiry into the circumstances of their loss.

"It has been hugely worthwhile... over six weeks we have heard a huge range of evidence which has uncovered a catalogue of failings."

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