Double child killer Colin Pitchfork can be freed from jail, says Parole Board

·4-min read
<p>Colin Pitchfork</p> (PA Media)

Colin Pitchfork

(PA Media)

A man who raped and killed two schoolgirls can be freed from prison, the Parole Board has said.

Colin Pitchfork was jailed for life after strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.

A hearing took place in March to consider whether he was suitable for release and the decision was published on Monday.

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.

He was eventually caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, as 5,000 men in three villages were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples.

Pitchfork pleaded guilty to two offences of murder, two of rape, two of indecent assault and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. His minimum term was cut by two years in 2009.

Although he was denied parole in 2016 and in 2018, Pitchfork was moved to an open prison three years ago.

A document detailing the Parole Board decision said: “After considering the circumstances of his offending, the progress made while in custody and the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Pitchfork was suitable for release.”

Victim, Dawn Ashworth (PA)
Victim, Dawn Ashworth (PA)

The panel considered more than 1,100 pages of information, victim statements and heard evidence from Pitchfork – who is now in his 60s – as well as his probation officers, police and a psychologist.

According to the document, at the time of his offending Pitchfork thought “about sex a lot”, used “violence and excessive force” and “sex to demonstrate power and control over women”.

He also struggled to cope with anger, loneliness and had a willingness to “seek revenge”.

During his time behind bars he has taken part in several courses to address his behaviour and the panel heard Pitchfork’s “behaviour in custody had been positive and had included extensive efforts to help others”, including learning skills to help disabled people, the document said.

Pitchfork’s release is subject to strict licence conditions.

He will have to live at a certain address, take part in probation supervision, 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 facing particular limits on contact with children.

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

Conservative South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa, who raised concerns about Pitchfork’s release with the Parole Board, said he was “appalled” by the decision, adding that the killer should be “kept behind bars for life”.

Although he said he had not received evidence which suggested Pitchfork posed a danger or had suitably reformed, Mr Costa said that society had “moved on” from the 1980s and if he committed such “repugnant” crimes now, there is “no way he would be released”.

Mr Costa added that during his time as MP the debate over Pitchfork’s release has been one of the biggest issues in the constituency.

He accused the Parole Board of “playing politics” and said he would be lobbying the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.

The decision is provisional for 21 days, subject to the approval of the Justice Secretary who has the power to appeal against the decision.

The Government is said to be seeking legal advice over the decision.

However, it is understood Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials did not oppose the release because it was felt the risk Pitchfork posed had sufficiently reduced and the restrictions he would be subjected to were suitable.

The Parole Board document said: “The Secretary of State’s representative was party to the proceedings and also asked questions of witnesses.”

Potential grounds for contesting the decision include whether it is felt the process was flawed or that key information was not considered.

A Parole Board spokesman said: “Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public if released and whether that risk is manageable in the community.

“Parole reviews are undertaken thoroughly and with extreme care. Protecting the public is our number one priority.”

An MoJ spokesman said: “We understand this will be an extremely upsetting decision for the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth and our heartfelt sympathies remain with them.

“If Colin Pitchfork is released, he will be closely supervised by the probation service for the rest of his life and can be brought back to prison if he breaks the strict conditions he will be subject to.”

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