Double child killer Colin Pitchfork to face fresh parole hearing

The Justice Secretary is seeking an urgent meeting with the Parole Board after it granted a double child rapist and murderer’s appeal to reconsider his case.

Alex Chalk is expected to raise concerns over the “flawed” decision after Colin Pitchfork successfully challenged a ruling to keep him behind bars.

The 63-year-old lost his latest bid for freedom in December but, having contested the decision, will now face a fresh parole hearing which could see him released from jail.

Dawn Ashworth
Dawn Ashworth was murdered by Colin Pitchfork in 1986 (Topham/PA)

The mother of one of his victims said “words fail me now” as she heard the news while an MP who has campaigned to keep Pitchfork behind bars warned the Parole Board was “demonstrating its utter inability to appropriately deal with this dangerous man”.

Pitchfork was jailed for life in 1988 after raping and strangling two 15-year-olds, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.

He was given a minimum term of 30 years, later reduced to 28 years due to progress he had made in prison, and was released in September 2021.

But Pitchfork was back behind bars two months later after breaching his licence conditions when he approached a lone woman while litter-picking.

In June last year the Parole Board found the decision to recall him to prison was flawed and said his detention was no longer necessary for public safety. But this ruling was blocked by Mr Chalk – who is also the Lord Chancellor – as he called for the decision to release Pitchfork to be reviewed.

Dawn’s mother Barbara Ashworth expressed her anguish at the news there would be another parole hearing with yet again the prospect of Pitchfork being freed.

The 77-year-old, who now lives in Cornwall, told the PA news agency: “Words fail me now.

“He seems to want to fight no matter what.

“I just don’t know where to go next to be honest.

“He’s killed two schoolgirls. I know what I’d do, I’d throw away the key.”

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk wants to meet the Parole Board to discuss Colin Pitchfork’s parole hearing (Lucy North/PA)

A Government source said it was “deeply concerning that having made one flawed decision, the Parole Board have made another, causing immense distress to the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth”, adding: “They are again left with no certainty and the Lord Chancellor has sought an urgent meeting with the Parole Board.”

Pitchfork, then 27, became the first man to be convicted in the UK using DNA fingerprinting evidence. He initially persuaded a work colleague to provide a DNA sample pretending to be him.

He was later suspected of trying to cheat lie detector tests, according to parole papers.

Documents said he was subjected to polygraph tests in 2021 and “it was believed that Mr Pitchfork was deliberately seeking to undermine the testing process by controlling his breathing”.

Parole Board decisions on whether to release criminals from prison are initially provisional.

The body’s rules stipulate both the prisoner and the Justice Secretary – on behalf of victims, their families and the public – have 21 days to appeal against a ruling on the grounds it is irrational, procedurally unfair and/or there had been an error of law.

The Parole Board reviews the application, decides whether it is eligible for reconsideration and, if so, orders a fresh hearing to determine the case again.

Conservative MP for South Leicestershire Alberto Costa told PA the Parole Board’s latest ruling was “in itself an irrational decision”, adding: “Once again, the Parole Board is demonstrating its utter inability to appropriately deal with this dangerous man who we must never forget brutally raped and strangled two young women.”

Pitchfork argued he had not been given a fair bid for release, complaining that comments from his prison offender manager were not taken into account.

The Parole Board said the panel considering his case had a “duty” to take this view into account and to “give adequate reasons for any disagreement with that recommendation” but concluded this had not happened.

Mr Costa said the body’s rules are “so opaque” that in effect Pitchfork has a “limitless” amount of appeals on every decision that the body makes which “cannot be rational”.

Every time the Parole Board rules against him, Pitchfork can appeal, Mr Costa added, claiming this was “getting to the point of madness”.

The MP plans to apply again for Pitchfork’s hearing to take place in public in a bid to ensure proper scrutiny of Parole Board decision process.

A similar request was previously rejected by Parole Board chairwoman Caroline Corby meaning the hearing took place behind closed doors.

Retired High Court judge Sir Stephen Silber granted Pitchfork’s reconsideration application, according to court records, and the Parole Board confirmed a “complete re-hearing” would take place in due course.

“Release can only be directed by the Parole Board if the new panel is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that Mr Pitchfork remain confined in prison.

“Mr Pitchfork has, and will continue to, remain in prison until this case has fully concluded,” the body added in a statement on Monday.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Our heartfelt sympathies remain with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth at this difficult time.

“This Government is reforming the parole system to add a ministerial check on the release of the most dangerous criminals and are changing the law so that for society’s most depraved killers, life means life.”