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

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

In being handed such a sentence, Wayne Couzens joins a string of some of the country’s most dangerous offenders, who are expected to die behind bars.

But it is the first time the tariff has been imposed for a single murder of an adult not committed in the course of a terror attack.

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

Michael Stone legal battle
Serial killer Levi Bellfield is serving two whole-life orders (Metropolitan Police/PA)

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.

British Crime – Serial Killers – Fred and Rosemary West – Gloucester – 1995
Rose West is thought to be one of only three women to have been given a whole-life order when she was jailed for 10 murders (PA)

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.

It would 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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