Justice Secretary to intervene in decision to free child killer Colin Pitchfork

The Justice Secretary has asked the Parole Board to rethink its decision to free double child killer Colin Pitchfork from prison.

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

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

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said on Friday that Robert Buckland would formally ask the board, which is independent of government, to re-examine the decision under the so-called reconsideration mechanism.

In a statement on Monday the Parole Board confirmed a request has now been submitted.

A spokesman said: “An application under the reconsideration mechanism has been received from the Secretary of State for Justice for the case of Colin Pitchfork and will now be considered.”

The reconsideration mechanism, introduced in July 2019, allows the Justice Secretary and the prisoner to challenge the board’s decision if they believe them to be “procedurally unfair” or “irrational” within 21 days.

Victims and members of the public can also make a request via the minister.

But the threshold is high and is the same as is required when seeking a judicial review.

Dawn Ashworth (Topham/PA)
Dawn Ashworth (Topham/PA)

The provisions also make clear that “being unhappy” with the decision is not grounds for reconsideration.

It is understood in this case the intervention was made on the grounds the decision was irrational, in that it makes no sense based on the evidence of risk that was considered and that other parole judges would not come to the same conclusion.

The case is expected to be assigned to a senior judge immediately for consideration, with families of victims being invited to give their views.

The process should not take more than three weeks.

If the application is refused, the decision and reasons for this will be published.

If accepted, then a review and fresh hearing will take place.

Pitchfork, who was in his 20s at the time of the attacks, became the first man convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence in 1988 after admitting two murders, two rapes, two indecent assaults and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

His 30-year minimum term was cut by two years in 2009 and he was moved to an open prison three years ago.

His release had been subject to strict licence conditions.