Sisters of murdered Collette Gallacher fight for change in justice system

Adam Stein, 61, was recently released from prison, on licence, after serving 35 years. In 1986, he was convicted of the sexually motivated killing of six-year-old Collette Gallacher. Stein is now living in England under the strictest supervision.

Alarmingly, this is only as a result of the efforts of Lauren and Claire Holmes, Collette’s sisters, who successfully sought the assistance of Robert Buckland, the secretary of state for justice. In the process, the two women have uncovered a disturbing and potentially dangerous lack of vigilance when killers are released, and are now campaigning for a change to the use of the violent and sex offenders register.

Stein was first released by the Parole Board in 2016, only to be recalled for driving offences. What those monitoring him didn’t know, or took little action if they did, was that Stein, then 58, was living under an assumed name. He had moved into a small community, lived close to a primary school, worked on building sites for cash in hand, drank heavily and had became involved in an abusive relationship with a vulnerable 18-year-old.

Stacey (not her real name) learned about Lauren and Claire’s campaign and contacted the sisters a few weeks ago to offer help – as have seven other women who claim Stein abused them when they were young. The Observer has been unable to put these further allegations to Stein.

“He had me brainwashed into thinking I loved him,” Stacey says. “Somehow, he wore me down and made me think it was what I wanted. When I stayed at his place, he sometimes persuaded me to take sleeping pills, ‘to get a better night’s rest’. On a few occasions, I woke up in bed with no recollection of leaving his living room.”

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Lauren Holmes, 36, a care worker supporting adults with the genetic disorder Prader-Willi syndrome, says: “Why wasn’t it setting off alarm bells with those supervising him that, at 58, he was with an 18-year-old girl, living close to children?”

Claire, 29, a criminology and psychology student, adds: “We want to highlight the lack of supervision, in case it’s happening to others. The system has to get this right.”

On 28 February 1986, Collette was on her way to school when Stein lured her away with a packet of crisps. Collette’s body was found in Stein’s attic five days later. His “risk factors”, according to a psychologist at the time, included “using sexual violence to humiliate a partner, a sexual interest in children, distorted sexual fantasies about children and a poor attitude to authority and supervision”.

Stein, then aged 26, was convicted of murder, and a charge of rape was left on file. Without that conviction, his name was not added to the sex offenders register, which ensures a high level of supervision in the community if released.

A family photo of Collette Gallacher, then aged four. She was murdered in 1986.
A family photo of Collette Gallacher, then aged four. She was murdered in 1986.

However, even if he had been found guilty of rape, his name would still not have been added to the register, because he was convicted before 1997, the year the register came into force. The sisters are campaigning to have all sex offenders added to the register, regardless of the date of their conviction. It’s a change that has the support of two former Labour home secretaries, David Blunkett and Jacqui Smith.

Fifteen years were added to Stein’s original 20-year sentence because of his poor behaviour. In May 2018, a report for the Parole Board by a prison psychologist, following Stein’s recall to prison, said he still demonstrated “identifiable risk factors”, including, “engaging in risky behaviour; inappropriate sexual fantasies … secrecy and a lack of openness”.

This January, only three years later, the Parole Board decided that Stein should be released because he now has “skills to deal with situations differently”. Conditions include that he must live in a hostel, be under curfew and be subject to monitoring including electronic tagging.

Lauren and Claire initially tried to stop his release and then wrote to a range of agencies and the secretary of state to point out the inadequate supervision during Stein’s previous 16 months of freedom. Buckland, who has the power to ask the Parole Board to reconsider its decision, has had several additional conditions placed on Stein. He is now on the highest level of multi-agency public protection arrangements. This means, for instance, that his murder conviction and rape on file could be disclosed to anyone considered relevant, including “an employer, landlord or a local school”.

In the past few days, an interim sexual harm prevention order has also been placed on Stein. This is granted when a court is satisfied that an individual, with or without a conviction, “presents a risk of sexual harm to the public”.

Will it all be enough? “We knew little of his past,” Stacey says. “He pretended to have several adult children with his ‘ex-wife’. A couple of us found out he’d been in prison about a week before he was recalled. He’d drunkenly drove his car while disqualified. He then gave us an astoundingly convincing story of how he’d accidentally killed his neighbour’s little girl during a drug-filled hallucination.”

A government spokesperson said: “Stein will be on licence for life and subject to conditions far stricter than the notification requirements for registered sex offenders. We have some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with heinous sex offenders but we will go further to protect communities and vulnerable people.”

In Northamptonshire, Corby borough council has planted a tree and provided a memorial bench in Collette’s name. It is requesting that Priti Patel, the home secretary, meets Lauren and Claire to consider a change to the register.

“Why have we had to struggle to discover what’s happening to Stein? Where’s the transparency?” Lauren asks.

“What’s so worrying is that the only reason he’s on much tougher restrictions is because we’ve fought tooth and nail,” adds Claire. “What might have happened otherwise?”



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