A man who tortured and killed two French students should have been in prison at the time of the killings, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw admitted yesterday.
But a succession of errors by the police and probation service meant he was free to carry out the sadistic murders.
Dano Sonnex, with his accomplice Nigel Farmer, tied up and stabbed Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez 244 times in a London flat in June 2008.
Prosecutors described the slaying as an “orgy of bloodletting”. The apparent motive was to rob the students of some electrical equipment and £360 in cash.
Yesterday Sonnex (23) and Farmer (34) were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Sonnex was told he must serve a minimum of 40 years while Farmer was told he would serve at least 35.
Sonnex should have been behind bars at the time of the attack. He was out on licence after serving an eight-year sentence for another stabbing and, after being caught handling stolen goods, his licence had been recalled.
However, following delays in processing the licence by the probation service, he was mistakenly bailed by magistrates and went on the run. Officers at the Metropolitan Police were given a warrant for his arrest 16 days before the murders, but did nothing about it. The first time they went to arrest him was hours after the murders had been committed.
Yesterday Mr Straw apologised and admitted that, were it not for blunders by his department, the two French students would still be alive. “In relation to the failings of the probation service, I take full responsibility,” he said. “They were unacceptable and had tragic consequences.”
After being convicted of wounding with intent and robbery in March 2003, Sonnex was freed from prison in February last year and was considered high risk.
The probation service categorised him as “medium risk”. They appointed him a probation officer with nine months' experience and a workload of 127 cases.
Two days after his release, Sonnex was reported to the police after he allegedly tied up and threatened a pregnant relative, but when she withdrew her complaint no charges were brought.
Yet officials at the Probation Service admit that the allegation should have triggered a review of his licence and could have prompted a recall.
Then, in April last year, Sonnex was charged with handling stolen goods. He was remanded in custody and on May 3 his probation officer started the recall process. The process should take 24 hours but by Sonnex's next appearance in front of the magistrates on May 16, it was still not complete.
For an unknown reason the magistrates granted Sonnex bail. Knowing that he was due to go back to prison to complete the final three years of his sentence, he went on the run.
The recall process was finally completed on June 12 last year, 43 days after it had started, and the following day a warrant for his arrest was issued. Police did not attempt to arrest him until June 29, 16 days later. Coincidentally, he had that morning murdered Mr Bonomo and Mr Ferez.
After yesterday's verdicts Guy Bonomo, Laurent's father, described Farmer and Sonnex as “animals” and added: “They should never get out.”