Thug who destroyed Devon man's life could leave prison early

Victim Callum Turner pictured holding a glass of wine in a pub
-Credit: (Image: Family photo)

The parents of a young man left with severe brain damage after he suffered an unprovoked assault in Plymouth fear his attacker could be released from jail this summer due to emergency measures to combat prison overcrowding.

The End of Custody Supervised License (ECSL) was introduced in October to ease overcrowding in jails across England and Wales. It allows certain prisoners to be released up to 70 days before the end of their sentence.

However, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that "no one" would be put on to the scheme "if they were deemed a threat to public safety".

The government said sex offenders, terrorists, serious violent offenders, and those serving sentences of more than four years would not be eligible. Earlier this month a further emergency measure - Operation Early Dawn - was triggered by the Ministry of Justice which would result in defendants remaining in police custody and not be transferred to magistrates' court for bail hearings, in case there isn't any space in jail cells for that prisoner if they are remanded in custody. reports Plymouth Live.

News of the two emergency measures - brought about due to the dire situation of severe overcrowding in prisons - have raised concerns for Wendy and Alan Turner, parents of 20 year old Callum, who was attacked by 33 year old Paul Roberts on the evening of July 17, 2021 as he walked along North Hill.

Roberts, who had been part of a disorderly band of men on North Hill and had taken cocaine as well as drinking throughout the day, was described by a witness as "particularly aggressive - pacing and shouting". Unprovoked, he approached Callum in the street, declaring "I'm in the f***ing mood for a fight" before landing a punch on Callum's head.

As per court hearings, Callum stumbled backwards, his head hitting the pavement with such force that an observer noted a 'cracking sound'.

Hospitalised immediately after the event, Callum's CT scan revealed a skull fracture and brain haemorrhage. However, his condition worsened considerably on July 22, 2021, as he became violently ill with frequent seizures.

A second CT scan indicated an escalated brain bleed and resulted in his being placed on a ventilator, receiving intravenous fluids. To stall his deteriorating health, life-saving surgery was performed, involving removal of a portion of his skull and brain and fitting a device to monitor cranial pressure.

While he initially showed signs of recovery over the subsequent weeks, it became apparent that the incident had left him with acute memory loss, significant cognitive development issues and severely limited verbal capacity. Despite being discharged on August 18, 2021, Callum needs continuous assistance to manage basic daily activities due to these lasting impairments.

Mugshot of Paul Martin David Roberts who is smiling
-Credit:Devon and Cornwall Police

Having initially denied the offence, Roberts pleaded guilty three weeks before his trial at Plymouth Crown Court. The prosecutor told the court that Callum was just 19 at the time, was a "'quiet, well liked young man' who hoped to study Criminology at university and become a police officer - his dream career since he was a boy. By comparison the court heard that Roberts had 33 convictions to his name from 81 offences, largely vehicle related, but also with five offences of violence including actual bodily harm and battery.

At the sentencing hearing in February 2023 Judge William Hart noted that the family and friends of the victim had been made aware of the "very limited sentence powers" the court had in such a case, before he remarked that whether the sentencing powers for this kind of assault would ever be considered to be raised: "I for one would not be unhappy if they were".

He passed a sentence of 39 months, taking account of the sentencing guidelines which gave a 15 percent discount for the early guilty plea. Roberts was told he would be released at the half way stage, which would have been expected to be around September 24, with the remainder of his term being served on licence.

However, Callum's parents say they have been warned that Roberts could walk free from prison up to two months early. They said it could be almost exactly three years after the incident in North Hill on July 17, 2021 when Callum Turner's life, and the lives of his family, changed beyond recognition.

Speaking to PlymouthLive, Wendy Turner, Callum's mum, said: "We know that the judge wanted to give Roberts more jail time but couldn't."

Wendy said she watched the news concerning prison laws and criminals being freed early. She then contacted the victim liaison officer for the case who she says got in touch with the prison liaison, who Wendy said acknowledged Roberts would be 'eligible' for early release.

Wendy said: "They shouldn't even be looking at him [Roberts] to come out on early release. It was a serious crime - Callum's life was changed by it, as was ours.

"The law isn't right - the law is over 100 years old. The judge even said it wasn't fit for purpose and he would welcome a change. It wasn't the right sentence to begin with. I can't get it out of my head that he might get early release.

"Even though it's just 70 days [early] it's too much to stomach. He will have two months off early, to go out and do it again. He probably will. On the night he attacked Callum he tried to get away with it. He's already got 30 odd convictions to his name.

"He never showed a shred of remorse - he certainly hadn't after being convicted more than 30 times.

"I spoke to Callum about it," Wendy added. "Callum's life has changed dramatically. This year he should've been graduating from his university - but that's not going to happen, ever. We have lived and breathed that punch every single day and we still will for every single day to come.

"I really, really thought 'it won't be him'. Even Callum did not think it would be him. The devastation of it.

"I suffer with anxiety now. Callum will go out with friends and I just can't rest when he's out now. I go and pick him up, whatever the time now. It's changed things completely. I get petrified when he's out.

"I just don't get it? Why him? I think to myself that Mr Sunak should come and meet us and tell us that he [Roberts] is allowed to come out early. I've got a question for the Prime Minister on this case - how are you looking at someone like Roberts and think they're not a threat to society?"