The UK justice secretary is considering intervening over the Parole Board’s decision to approve the release of the child killer and rapist Colin Pitchfork.
The double murderer was jailed for life after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.
Pitchfork, then in his 20s, became the first man convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence and was jailed for life at Leicester crown court in 1988. He was sentenced to serve a minimum of 30 years.
In early June, the Parole Board ruled Pitchfork could be released on licence, saying his “behaviour in custody had been positive and had included extensive efforts to help others”.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, has 21 days to request a formal reconsideration. He said he was “taking advice on the matter” with a view to making an announcement as soon as possible.
“(I’ve) got to put emotions aside, but I am a human being like everybody else, and that case was horrendous,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Buckland said that regardless of the decision in the Pitchfork case, he intended to “go further with a root and branch review” of the Parole Board.
Under the conditions of his release, Pitchfork, now 61, would have to live at a designated address, wear an electronic tag, complete lie detector tests and disclose what vehicles he uses and to whom he speaks, with particular limits on contact with children.
The families of the victims have criticised the board’s decision. “There are some crimes so horrendous that a reprieve is not appropriate. It is an affront to natural justice,” Dawn’s uncle, Philip Musson, told the BBC. “He took their lives in a way which is an absolute torment to those who cared and loved these girls.”
Stuart Nolan, the chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said under current sentencing rules someone committing the same crimes as Pitchfork would get a full life sentence.
“Obviously, they were horrific crimes and these are always very difficult, emotionally, to deal with,” he said. “The Parole Board, in my experience, wouldn’t have made this decision lightly.
“Only time will tell whether it was the right decision. You’ve got to hope that all the conditions and the various restrictions on his liberty, while he serves the rest of his sentence in the community, are properly resourced.”
Pitchfork was caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, when 5,000 men in three villages were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples, although he initially evaded justice by getting a colleague to take the test for him.
He pleaded guilty to two offences of murder, two of rape, two of indecent assault and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The lord chief justice at the time, Lord Lane, said: “From the point of view of the safety of the public I doubt if he should ever be released.”