Michael Howard's decision to imprison Myra Hindley until she dies could be challenged in the courts in months, say sources close to the Moors murderess.
An application for leave to seek a judicial review of the case is being prepared by Edward Fitzgerald QC and is thought to be in an advanced state.
It is expected that Mr Fitzgerald will challenge the Home Secretary's right to overturn earlier recommendations that Hindley, 53, should serve 25 years. Papers from Hindley's Home Office file, published by the Independent last year, show that a Cabinet decision was taken in the mid-1980s to release Hindley after 30 years. She has served almost that term.
Mr Fitzgerald is one of a loose group of people who have supported Hindley over the years who believe she is being treated differently from other prisoners because of the political dangers inherent in any consideration of her release.
Without condoning what she did, her supporters point to the fact that she has served twice the average life sentence and is recognised by psychologists and criminologists as presenting no danger to the public.
Mr Fitzgerald is a recognised champion of civil liberties. It is understood his fees in Hindley's case have been minimal. They are invariably paid by David Astor, 83, editor of the Observer until 1975, who believes that Hindley is treated as a political prisoner in as much as any decision to free her would have to be made by a Home Secretary instead of the courts.
Hindley's solicitor is Carolyn Taylor, niece of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth. She works at Taylor Nichol, a firm based in Finsbury Park, London, with a reputation for taking on difficult cases.
Mr Astor was introduced to Hindley in 1982 by Lord Longford, who has campaigned for Hindley's release on the grounds that she has been punished and, he feels, rehabilitated, and whose granddaughter the biographer Rebecca Fraser is married to Mr Fitzgerald.
The Rev Peter Timms, a former governor of Maidstone prison, Kent, who was asked to evaluate Hindley, rejected reports of a well-organised group of people campaigning for her release. "We are just a very loose grouping who feel Hindley is being unfairly treated," he said. "But there is no organisation, no campaign, not even any regular contact."