Double child killer Colin Pitchfork freed from jail

Artist's impression of Colin Pitchfork, 48, (right) appealing the length of his sentence at the Court of Appeal in London. Colin Pitchfork, now 48, who was jailed for life 20 years ago for the "heinous" murders of two schoolgirls in Leicestershire, is serving a minimum term of 30 years - the least he must spend behind bars before he can apply for parole.
Artist's impression of Colin Pitchfork, 48, (right) appealing the length of his sentence at the Court of Appeal in London. Colin Pitchfork, now 48, who was jailed for life 20 years ago for the "heinous" murders of two schoolgirls in Leicestershire, is serving a minimum term of 30 years - the least he must spend behind bars before he can apply for parole.

Double child killer Colin Pitchfork has walked free from prison after bids to keep him behind bars for longer failed.

Now in his early 60s, Pitchfork was jailed for life after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.

He was eventually caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA – where 5,000 men in three villages were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples – and admitted two murders, two rapes, two indecent assaults and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Pitchfork became the first man convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence in 1988.

His 30-year minimum term was cut by two years in 2009, he was moved to open prison HMP Leyhill in Gloucestershire three years ago, and he was released on Wednesday.

Dawn Ashworth (Topham/PA)
Dawn Ashworth was one of Pitchfork’s young victims (Topham/PA)

Dawn’s mother, Barbara Ashworth, said Pitchfork should have been kept behind bars for life, saying his crimes had reduced her life to an “existence” and adding: “I don’t think he should be breathing the same air as us.”

Speaking to the PA news agency, she said: “I can never put it out of my mind.

“I recoil every day with people talking about their daughters and grandchildren. As I say, it’s with you daily, what you’ve had taken and all that she could have achieved.

“I just think it should never have been allowed, he should never be walking the streets again … he should have been locked away for life without parole as far as I’m concerned.

“It’s an existence, it’s not a life. I’m not living a life, it’s just go from day to day.

“Something like this goes to pull the rug from under you and you don’t realise how shattered your life can be when you’ve just had everything taken away.”

Following a hearing in March, the Parole Board ruled that Pitchfork was “suitable for release”, despite this being denied in 2016 and 2018.

The Andrew Marr show
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he was disappointed with the Parole Board’s decision but respected it (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In June, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asked the board, which is independent of the Government, to re-examine the decision under the so-called reconsideration mechanism.

But the Parole Board rejected the Government challenge against its ruling the following month, announcing that the application to reconsider the decision had been refused.

Mr Buckland expressed his disappointment but said he respected the decision.

South Leicestershire Conservative MP Alberto Costa, who campaigned against the release, said he is “extremely saddened and deeply disappointed” by the news, warning: “In my view, Pitchfork still presents a very real danger to the public.”

Pitchfork is now subject to more than 40 licence conditions, which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) described as some of the strictest “ever set”. Typically there are seven standard conditions for offenders leaving prison but Pitchfork will have to meet a further 36 requirements.

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins told LBC there is a “very strong regime of controls” put on offenders who leave prison, when asked whether she is happy with the plan for Pitchfork’s release and if she is confident in the safeguarding measures that will be put in place.

Pitchfork will be placed on the sex offenders register and have to live at a designated address, be supervised by probation, wear an electronic tag, take part in polygraph – lie detector – tests, and have to disclose what vehicles he uses and who he speaks to, while also facing particular limits on contact with children.

He will be subject to a curfew, have restrictions on using technology, and face limitations on where he can go.

An MoJ spokesman said the department’s “heartfelt sympathies” remain with the families, adding: “Public safety is our top priority, which is why he is subject to some of the strictest licence conditions ever set and will remain under supervision for the rest of his life.

“If he breaches these conditions, he faces an immediate return to prison.”

The Government plans to overhaul the parole system, with the findings of a review expected later this year. It has also sought to change the law so child killers face life behind bars without parole.