High-profile prisoners who have married behind bars as serial killer Levi Bellfield asks to wed

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Serial killer Levi Bellfield’s request to get married in prison is “inconceivable” unless serious safeguarding concerns are addressed, Dominic Raab says  (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Serial killer Levi Bellfield’s request to get married in prison is “inconceivable” unless serious safeguarding concerns are addressed, Dominic Raab says (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The serial killer Levi Bellfield has applied for permission to marry a female visitor in prison.

He is currently serving two whole-life orders at HMP Frankland in County Durham for murdering Marsha McDonnell, Amelie Delagrange and Milly Dowler, aged 19, 22, and 13, respectively.

According to The Sun, the 53-year-old got down on one knee to propose in front of staff at the Category A men’s prison, where he will need the governor’s approval for the proposed nuptials to go ahead.

The Ministry of Justice has said that his “application has been received and is being considered in the usual way”, and it is understood that it is still being processed and is not at any further advanced stage.

But former justice secretary Robert Buckland said that the proposed prison nuptials “beggars belief”, telling the newspaper that Milly – whom Bellfield abducted while walking home from school in Surrey in March 2002 – “never got to see her wedding day”, adding: “It cannot be right that he gets to have his.”

Yet it would not be the first time that a high-profile offender has married while behind bars in the UK. Here’s a look at a few high-profile prisoners who have at least planned to do so in recent years:

Charles Bronson

Perhaps one of the most high-profile prison weddings in the UK was that of “Britain’s most violent prisoner” to a soaps actress 27 years his junior.

Having served multiple spells in prisons for a litany of violent crimes, Charles Bronson married twice while behind bars.

In 2001, he was wed in HMP Woodhill to Fatema Saira Rehman, who worked as a translator in Luton.

The Bangladeshi-born divorcee had started a written correspondence with Bronson after seeing a picture of him in a newspaper, and reportedly visited him nine times prior to their wedding. The pair divorced four years later.

Then in November 2017, Bronson was married again, this time in HMP Wakefield, to Paula Williamson, who had previously appeared in Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale.

They filed for divorce prior to her unrelated death in July 2019, which was ruled a drug overdose by a coroner during an inquest attended by Bronson via videolink.

Thelma Yvonne Purchase & Tai Pilley

Currently serving a 30-year prison sentence over the murder of a disabled man for his £70,000 inheritance fund, Thelma Yvonne Purchase is reported by the Daily Star to have entered a civil partnership while in prison.

The mother-of-three from Meir, Stoke-on-Trent, reportedly met Tai Pilley, a transgender woman formerly known as Douglas Wakefield, who was imprisoned for strangling their uncle and stabbing him 48 times with a garden fork in Gipton, Leeds.

Pilley reportedly became notorious as one of the most dangerous people behind bars, killing an inmate at Parkhurst and twice taking prison officers hostage.

According to the Daily Star, the pair went through a civil partnership ceremony at New Hall prison in 2010, but their relationship later deteriorated, and Purchase was moved to a different prison.

Mikhail Gallatinov & Marc Goodwin

These two convicted murderers made headlines in March 2015 after becoming the first same-sex couple to marry in prison, in a 20-minute ceremony at Full Sutton Prison in East Yorkshire.

Gallatinov, 40, is a convicted paedophile serving a life sentence since 1997 for the "cold-blooded" killing of 28-year old Adrian Kaminsky - who he met through a gay chat line. He can be considered for parole next year.

Goodwin, 31, was sentenced to life in 2007 for a homophobic murder that was described as part of a 'gay-bashing spree'.

Julian Assange

While most would certainly not term the Wikileaks founder “notorious”, his case has become one watched the world over, as the US seeks to extradite him from the UK.

He has spent three years in HMP Belmarsh since his dramatic arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy, and faces 18 counts relating to WikiLeaks release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.

In March, he married his long-term partner Stella Morris at the high-security London prison, with the pair wearing wedding outfits designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood.

“This is not a prison wedding,” his new wife said. “It is a declaration of love and resilience in spite of the prison walls, in spite of the political persecution, in spite of the arbitrary detention, in spite of the harm and harassment inflicted on Julian and our family.

“Their torment only makes our love grow stronger.”

What are the laws around prison marriages?

Under the Marriage Act 1983, prisoners have a legal right to enter into marriage at the place of their detention – a right underscored by Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was introduced, this also applies to LGBT+ prisoners.

According to National Offender Management Service guidance, when considering applications prison governors may decide that a marriage should be subject to restrictions, “for example, if there is evidence to suggest that the parties are colluding to commit further offences or that their association increases their risk of harm”.

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