Serial rapist Joseph McCann was released from prison after an error by the probation service, sources have said.

McCann, who was convicted today at the Old Bailey of 37 charges, including rape and kidnap, was mistakenly released halfway through a three-year sentence earlier this year without going in front of a parole board.

A couple of months later, McCann, 34, of Harrow, embarked on a horrifying crime spree where he committed numerous rapes and kidnaps on victims aged between 11 and 71 in Watford, London, and the north west of England.

In 2008, McCann was given an indeterminate sentence after raiding the home of an 85-year-old man. It meant he was only allowed out if the parole board deemed him no longer a danger to the public.

Joseph McCann

McCann was freed in 2017 but he soon committed another burglary and he should have been recalled to prison, sources told the Press Association.

McCann was remanded in custody and later given a three year sentence - which did not take into account his previous offences.

But in February this year, he was released automatically halfway through his sentence without going in front of the parole board.

Following McCann's arrest in May, the Ministry of Justice carried out a serious further offence review into his case.

The review is understood to have identified an error in the probation service failing to recall McCann when he committed the burglary.

Of four probation staff in the south east and eastern division who were directly involved in McCann's supervision, one was demoted, according to PA sources.

The probation service has now apologised for "failings" which enabled "evil" sex attacker Joseph McCann to carry out a series of attacks on women and children.

Jo Farrar, chief executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service, said: "These were appalling crimes and our thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families.

"We recognise that there were failings and we apologise unreservedly for our part in this. We are committed to doing everything we possibly can to learn from this terrible case.

"We have taken strong and immediate action against those involved in the management of McCann's case and are taking significant steps to improve intelligence sharing between agencies.

"At the same time, we are developing new mandatory training on recall for all probation officers and we have updated guidance on the threshold for recalling an offender to prison."

The jury deliberated for five hours to find him guilty of 37 charges relating to 11 victims, including eight rapes, false imprisonment and kidnap.

McCann, of Harrow, was convicted of 10 counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of rape, one count of rape of a child, two counts of causing or inciting a person to engage in sexual activity without consent, seven counts of kidnap, one count of attempted kidnap, three counts of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, three counts of assault by penetration, one count of sexual assault and two counts of committing a sexual offence with intent.

Mr Justice Edis adjourned sentencing until Monday, saying McCann could attend in court or by video link from prison.

Four men and two women have been arrested on suspicion of assisting McCann and released under investigation.