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The Justice Secretary’s announcement at the Conservatives annual conference in Manchester to extend whole life orders for society’s worst killers is welcome, but it does not go far enough.

The government’s message appears to cover all such killers, with the suggestion that whole life orders will apply ‘retrospectively’ for the most serious cases, even the chance of parole would be denied.

But on closer scrutiny, the government’s proposal would only apply to those convicted of brutal murder but not yet sentenced. This falls far short of what is needed and is not in any substantive sense a ‘retrospective’ application of whole life orders.

The public rightly expect that the most despicable killers will remain in prison to face life behind bars.

Take the case of Colin Pitchfork whose Parole Board hearing took place this week. In 1988, this cruel man was sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal rape and murder of two young women in my South Leicestershire constituency.

In November 1983, 15 year old Lynda Mann, was raped and strangled by Pitchfork in the village of Narborough. A few years later in July 1986, Pitchfork struck again, this time beating, savagely raping and strangling 15 year old Dawn Ashworth in the nearby village of Enderby. Mr Pitchfork, a married man with children, left his baby son alone sleeping in the car while he carried out his first attack. What sort of human being does this?

Pitchfork was sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal rape and murder of two youngsters

Dawn Ashworth, 15, who was raped and murdered by Colin Pitchfork in July 1986. Right, Lynda Mann, 15, who was raped and murdered by Colin Pitchfork in November 1983

Pitchfork’s case is not only notorious for these heinous and abhorrent crimes which tragically ended the lives of two young girls, it’s also known as a pivotal moment in English criminal justice history; he was the first person in the world to be convicted using DNA fingerprinting evidence pioneered by Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester.

Following the tragic deaths of Lynda and Dawn, Leicestershire Police conducted one of the country’s largest manhunts in looking for the perpetrator.

Their deaths also made headline news across the world – in attempting to find those responsible, Leicestershire Police took the unprecedented and innovative step of ‘blooding’ over 5,000 local men; asking them to volunteer their blood and saliva for the purposes of DNA testing in the hope of finding a match to the evidence left at the scenes of these awful crimes.

In a painstaking, six-month process, the University of Leicester, the Forensic Science Service and Leicestershire Police combed through the samples given by local men and no matches were found. It was only after being overheard bragging that he had asked a friend to donate a DNA sample in his place that Pitchfork was discovered. 

During questioning, he admitted to exposing himself to more than 1,000 women. He was arrested and tried for his crimes during which he plead guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The brutal and callous nature of Pitchfork’s crimes raise questions as to whether such an individual should ever be released from prison. Should the Parole Board be mandated to take into consideration whether such a killer would be released under the government’s new proposals?

Mr Costa believes the Parole Board needs reform in line with the Justice Secretary’s welcome retrospective approach

Colin Pitchfork, 63, was released from prison in September 2021 before being recalled just two months later for approaching a lone female while litter picking

Now, this truly would be ‘retrospective’ application of the new criminal sentencing regime proposed by government. There is little doubt among professionals, my constituents in South Leicestershire and my own personal opinion, that had Pitchfork not been caught he would have taken yet another young life – that Pitchfork wilfully deceived the authorities during their investigations and that he continued to exercise his freedom and live his life when his victims could not, are a further indictment on this individual’s character. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice at the time of sentence said, “From the point of view of the safety of the public, I doubt he should ever be released”.

I believe that the Parole Board needs reform in line with the Justice Secretary’s welcome retrospective approach. As a start, it requires parliament to pass legislation mandating the Parole Board to give consideration on how such serious sexual crimes are dealt with at the time of the parole hearing seeking release, rather than at the time of the criminal court conviction.

This would allow new criminal laws to be fairly applied retrospectively to ensure that the very worst killers are never released from prison. But I would go further; the Parole Board operates in an opaque manner and I believe the time has come for it to become transparent and more court like in its process.

Consider how we treat an individual charged with a criminal offence; the criminal court process is usually open to the public. Indeed, journalists often have reserved seating in courts, can view proceedings and can report on the evidence disclosed in court.

And at the end of the criminal court process, the judgement is given in public. Yet, at the other end of the criminal justice system, when a prisoner applies to be released on licence, the parole system is entirely opaque.

There are no reserved seats for journalists, the media is unable to report on the process because it has no ability to observe proceedings and members of the public have no right to attend a parole hearing. Only those that the Parole Board itself wishes to invite to observe proceedings are permitted.

I was given this courtesy and believe to be the first MP in English criminal history to observe a modern Parole Board hearing. But before I was permitted to observe Pitchfork’s June 2023 parole hearing, I had to sign a confidentiality statement, confirming that I would not divulge any substantive evidence disclosed at the hearing.

Why the secrecy? What is it about this part of the criminal justice process that has to be kept from the public? Some will argue that the privacy rights of the prisoner are the principal reason for confidentiality in the process, but those rights must be balanced against the wider rights of society to scrutinise public processes.

Surely the time has come for the public to have the right to view Parole Board hearings just as they have the right to view criminal court hearings; that journalists be given the opportunity to attend Parole Board hearings to allow them to explain to the wider public the processes involved and the evidence heard.

And that the Parole Board take into account the sentencing regime applicable at the time of a prisoner seeking release rather than when convicted. Only by adopting these measures, can the government restore faith in the parole system and ensure that evil killers like Pitchfork are kept in prison.

Alberto Costa is the MP for South Leicestershire and a lawyer by profession. He has campaigned for over eight years to highlight the problem in our parole system.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

Content source – www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com

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