Hindley singled out unfairly, court told

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The Moors murderer Myra Hindley launched a legal action yesterday against an order that she should remain in prison for the rest of her life. Her lawyers claim she has been singled out because of her notoriety. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, was in court.

Myra Hindley was a victim of injustice because of the decisions by successive home secretaries that she should serve "whole life", effectively condemning her to die in jail, a High Court heard yesterday.

Mr Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Hindley said there was a suspicion that his client had been "singled out" for tougher treatment by ministers because of the circumstances and publicity surrounding her case.

Hindley, now 55, was sentenced to life in prison 31 years ago for the murders of Lesley Downey and Edward Evans, together with her co-defendant Ian Brady. Yesterday she sought to overturn the decision by the former Home Secretary Michael Howard and reiterated by Jack Straw last month that she should serve the life tariff.

Mr Fitzgerald told the High Court that Hindley and Brady were the only people whose tariff period of imprisonment - 30 and 40 years respectively - had been increased by the Home Office. He suggested that the policy of setting and then increasing such tariffs, which Hindley claims is unlawful, has been used solely to deal with her case.

He said that though the Home Secretary said last month that the life- tariff prisoners could be freed if they showed "exceptional progress" in jail, subsequent media interviews given by Mr Straw had shown that he was content that Hindley should serve the full period.

Such comments created a "expectation" among the public that Hindley would stay in prison until she died, an expectation from which it would be hard for the Home Secretary to retreat.

Mr Fitzgerald said that in increasing her tariff to life, first set in 1985, successive home secretaries had ignored the mitigation of her 1987 confessions in which she acknowledged her guilt and in which she acknowledged her involvement in two other killings. Nor had they considered "intimidation" against her and her family by her "mentor" Brady.

At the same time ministers had not taken into account a Parole Board recommendation that Hindley - currently in Durham jail - should be sent to an open prison.

Mr Fitzgerald said she was the only "secondary party" in a murder case to have been given a whole-life tariff, and with Rose West was only one of two women to receive it. Ministers had also failed to distinguish between the more serious actions of Brady and that of Hindley.

Hindley is challenging the legality of ruling by Mr Howard and now Mr Straw to put her on a life tariff, an increase on the 30 years she had expected.

She is also challenging the policy of imposing any such tariff for prisoners. Even under Mr Straw's promise to review cases where there was exceptional progress, she says this unlawfully fetters his discretion to release prisoners.

Mr Fitzgerald said his client was not challenging her sentence or conviction and nor was she asking the High Court to release her immediately. She simply asked that her case be dealt with on its merits.

Mr Straw has already indicated he will review Hindley's individual circumstances at the end of her judicial review. The hearing, which is expected to last three days continues.