It is impossible to imagine the bitter grief that is once again afflicting the families of the two girls raped and murdered by Colin Pitchfork, whose prison release was approved by the Parole Board this week.
Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth were both 15 when they were murdered by the violent paedophile.
These were two pitiless acts of the most revolting kind of murder, separated by three years in the 1980s, though Pitchfork subsequently pleaded guilty to other sexual offences in between.
The trial judge expressed his shock and anguish at the sadistic nature of the crimes, with the most senior judge in England at the time, Lord Lane, saying: ‘I doubt if he should ever be released.’
This, I am afraid, is always how it works in this country. Judges and law officers make tough-sounding statements about cracking down on violent, predatory murderers. But in the end, the institutional drift is always back to permissiveness, and erring on the side of the ‘reformed perpetrator’.
It is impossible to imagine the bitter grief that is once again afflicting the families of the two girls raped and murdered by Colin Pitchfork (pictured), whose prison release was approved by the Parole Board this week, writes David Blunkett
Unless ministers show urgently that they have the will to stand up to this outrage, Pitchfork could be free within weeks after 33 years behind bars.
Lynda Mann’s sister, Sue Gratrick, is understandably appalled by this ‘crazy’ ruling and said: ‘I don’t believe somebody guilty of acts such as those he did is capable of being rehabilitated.
‘Every time he comes up for parole, or there is some other development such as him being granted day release, our pain is heightened once more.’
As someone who served as Home Secretary during the Tony Blair administration, I know how powerless one can feel against the courts and the criminal justice bureaucracy.
I won some battles to ensure life in prison meant exactly that, but I still carry the bruises from my encounters with the powerful legal and judicial forces that line up against ceding power to the Home Secretary.
Victims: Lynda Mann (left) and Dawn Ashworth (right) were both 15 when they were murdered by the violent paedophile
This dilemma can be traced back to seismic social and political changes in the 1960s when a private member’s bill in Parliament was carried overwhelmingly to abolish capital punishment.
It is easy to forget at this distance that the issue was highly controversial, and opposed by many.
So, in effect, the Government made a contract with the public that the most heinous crimes – those that would previously have merited the hangman’s noose – would instead be punished with a full life sentence.
The idea was that premeditated murder, particularly of children, could never be normalised or treated as just another category of crime.
This has to be an essential pillar of our criminal justice system because if the principle is compromised, public confidence in the proper application of punishment to crime evaporates.
I should make it clear that I accept that the Parole Board truly has the job from hell in adjudicating some of these cases.
But it lets itself and the public down when it intervenes to release those whose crimes were so sickening that any notion of rehabilitation is somehow rendered meaningless.
In November 1983, he attacked 15-year-old Lynda Mann as she took a shortcut home from babysitting in the Leicestershire village of Narborough. He raped her and then strangled her to death with her own scarf. Pictured: The crime scene
Pitchfork viciously raped then strangled Lynda Mann in November 1983 while his own baby son slept in his parked car nearby. The judge who oversaw his sentencing, Mr Justice Otton, observed that the rapes and murders ‘were of a particularly sadistic kind’.
In almost all cases I try to believe that offenders are capable of genuine remorse and rehabilitation.
But in the case of Pitchfork, I genuinely do not see why anything other than a whole-life term fits the crimes. I agree with Lynda Mann’s sister that a man capable of such wicked outrage is literally incapable of rehabilitation.
This was why, as Home Secretary, I reintroduced the principle in 2003 of what was then known as the ‘whole-life tariff’ for the most appalling crimes.
This commanded general popular support, but the policy was constantly under attack from the European Court of Human Rights, and indeed from our own High Court, which fiercely resisted the notion of any political influence in the sentencing of criminals.
The mother of victim Dawn Ashworth (pictured) said the killer – the first to be convicted on DNA evidence – ‘will always present a danger’
We tried to introduce 50-year tariffs, cut to 40 years by the courts, but even that was eventually overturned.
But I believed, and I continue to believe, that the principle of whole-life tariffs is essential to the working of our justice system as it distinguishes those who cannot or should not be ‘redeemed’ from the vast majority of offenders who can and should be rehabilitated.
It is essential the public, and indeed the parole and prison staff, understand that there is a clear distinction between very serious offences meriting perhaps 20 years in prison, and those for which there should in effect be no limit.
The distinction allows for a balanced and rational sentencing regime, building confidence with the public that those who are released – and this is the overwhelming majority – stand some chance of going straight.
Pitchfork, some argue, should be given some credit for having pleaded guilty at his trial and for not putting the girls’ families through the trauma of a full trial.
But I have little sympathy with that indulgent view. He was the first murderer to be trapped by DNA in this country, but only after inducing a colleague at the bakery where he worked to illegally provide the sample on his behalf.
He dodged justice for as long as he could. DNA has transformed the prosecution of most murder trials, and Pitchfork should not get credit for having belatedly accepted the obviousness of his guilt.
There was a similar outrage in the case of Roy Whiting, who is still in prison for murdering Sarah Payne in 2000.
Five years earlier he had been convicted for the abduction and sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl, for which he could have been sentenced to life in prison.
But, because he pleaded guilty and was given ‘credit’ for having spared the victim the ordeal of testifying, he was sentenced to a disgracefully paltry four years.
Even more astonishingly, he was released early after just over two years, allowing him to emerge and reoffend with such devastating consequences to the Payne family.
When I was Home Secretary back in the 2000s, I came under attack for criticising ‘airy-fairy civil liberties’ zealots.
The Guardian newspaper, I recall, was particularly outraged when I made the point that the law should not be made by judges legislating from the bench, but by ‘those who are held to account for both making it, and changing it.’
By that, of course, I meant elected politicians who have to explain and justify their actions to those who elect them to office.
Nothing I have seen in the years since I left the Home Office has persuaded me to change my view.
Since Whitehall reorganisations, criminal justice policy falls under the auspices of the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, rather than the Home Secretary.
Mr Buckland’s officials will now be urgently reviewing the case and seeing if there are grounds for a formal review of the Parole Board’s decision to free one of the most evil killers of our time.
I wish Mr Buckland the best of luck in his endeavour. Not just for the sake of the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, who scarcely can be expected to take any more pain from the murders of their daughters. But because there is a wider point at play here too.
When child killers who are beyond redemption are set free, confidence in the entire justice system is undermined, and those who should be rehabilitated are overlooked.
‘Do they know what he did to those girls?’: Top detective who snared double killer Colin Pitchfork slams decision to free him from jail after 33 years
The detective who snared double killer Colin Pitchfork has slammed the decision to free the sex monster, saying he remains a danger.
Retired officer David Baker said he was not consulted by Parole Board members before they approved Pitchfork’s release on licence.
He warned that, at 61, the paedophile remained physically capable of attacking girls again.
Retired officer David Baker said he was not consulted by Parole Board members before they approved Colin Pitchfork’s release on licence
Detective Superintendent Baker, whose use of DNA evidence helped prove Pitchfork raped and murdered 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, said the full extent of the bakery worker’s brutality in the attacks was never revealed.
His call for the killer to remain behind bars comes after relatives of his victims also condemned the Parole Board’s decision.
Pitchfork’s murders on footpaths between two Leicestershire villages in 1983 and 1986 were solved when Mr Baker approached Leicester University professor Sir Alec Jeffreys for help, having read about his pioneering work in DNA fingerprinting.
But Pitchfork almost got away with the crimes after persuading a workmate to pose as him during a blood-testing dragnet.
Echoing the warnings of Dawn’s mother Barbara Ashworth in yesterday’s Mail, Mr Baker, 85, said he fears Pitchfork could ‘pull the wool over people’s eyes again’.
Colin Pitchfork was jailed for life for the two rapes and murders in 1988 and given a minimum tariff of 30 years, later reduced to 28
He said: ‘I understand the Parole Board claims to have spoken to the police as part of the process that led to their decision, but they certainly have not spoken to me.
‘As the chief investigating officer in the case, I know what kind of person Pitchfork is and the extent to which he tried to evade arrest.
‘Because of his guilty pleas, what never came out at any court hearing was the levels of violence he caused to the two girls. You wonder if the Parole Board are aware of exactly what he did to the girls.
‘While he has been in jail he has been out of temptation’s way, but once freed he will be back in the community where there are countless young girls to tempt him.’
Pitchfork was jailed for life for the two rapes and murders in 1988 and given a minimum tariff of 30 years, later reduced to 28.
The Parole Board’s decision, published on Monday, means he could be freed in weeks.