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Why did Gary Glitter only serve half his prison sentence?

<span>Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The release of Gary Glitter after having served half of his 16-year sentence will come as a shock to many, given the scale and gravity of his crimes. The reality is there was no option but to free him.

Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, received a standard determinate or fixed-term sentence from a court for sexually abusing three girls, meaning he is automatically released on licence at the halfway point of his sentence. There have long been concerns about this policy, with victims and the public often left confused by the fact offenders do not serve their full sentence.

It is why the government changed the law in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act 2022, which changes the automatic release point for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violent or sexual offences.

If Glitter had been convicted under these rules, the length of the former singer’s sentence means he would have had to serve two-thirds of the term rather than half. However, like the majority of new laws, they do not apply retrospectively and nothing could be done to extend the time Glitter was required to spend in jail.

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the justice secretary, currently Dominic Raab, has a duty to automatically release certain fixed-term prisoners when they have completed the requisite custodial period.

Under the PCSC, the justice secretary does have a power to detain dangerous prisoners serving a standard determinate sentence but the bar for exercising it is set extremely high. There is a test for the level of danger and a public interest test, with the justice secretary being required to believe on reasonable grounds that the released prisoner would pose a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission of specified offences.

The Ministry of Justice and the Probation Service policy framework specifically lists as an inappropriate reason to use the power “undue pressure to submit cases due to their notoriety or dissatisfaction with the original sentence handed down”. Raab has been quick to raise concerns and challenge Parole Board decisions relating to violent offenders, so if he could do something to prevent or at least challenge Glitter’s release he would probably have done so. The reality is, his hands were tied.

The MoJ can do little except reassure the public that Glitter will be “closely monitored by the police and Probation Service, and face some of the strictest licence conditions including being fitted with a GPS tag”.

Other licence conditions for sexual offenders can include curfews, residing at approved premises, bans on unsupervised contact with children, and restrictions on internet usage. They also face restrictions on travelling abroad, which is particularly relevant in Glitter’s case where there is a history of offending overseas. And ultimately they can be recalled to prison if they breach their conditions.