Whole life orders: The sentence which sees criminals likely to die behind bars

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(Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)
(Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)

Whole life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system for those who commit the most serious crimes.

Wayne Couzens, having been sentenced to a whole life order on Thursday for the kindap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, will join a string of some of the country’s most dangerous offenders who are expected to die behind bars.

There are 60 criminals serving whole life orders, according to Government figures to the end of June.

They will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Other notorious criminals serving whole life orders include: Gloucester serial killer Rose West, Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones in Wales; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port; and most recently the Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah who murdered three men in a park.

Before they died, Moors murderer Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole life orders.

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole life tariffs and these are now determined by judges.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, the Government is trying to expand the use of whole life orders for premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.

We will also give judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.

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