Hindley's lifelong sentence `unjust'

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THE HOME Secretary was accused in the Court of Appeal yesterday of unlawfully keeping the Moors murderer Myra Hindley in jail "because of her notoriety and unpopularity".

At the start of a three-day appeal hearing backed by legal aid, the child killer's lawyers said there was no "intrinsic necessity" for her to spend her natural life in jail.

Hindley, 56, is challenging the legality of decisions by successive home secretaries that she must spend the rest of her days in prison.

Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, and two other Court of Appeal judges are being asked to overturn a High Court ruling last December that upheld those decisions and left her with little hope of ever being released on licence.

Hindley, who is held in a special eight-prisoner unit at Highpoint Prison in Suffolk, where she is suffering from osteoarthritis, was not in court. She has so far served more than 32 years for the murders of Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and Edward Evans, 17.

She was convicted with Ian Brady, now 60, who was additionally jailed for life for murdering 12-year-old John Kilbride.

Another 21 years went by before the pair confessed to killing Pauline Reade, 16, and Keith Bennett, 12, and burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor on the edge of the Peak District.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Hindley, accused the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, of failing to address the main point of her mitigation, "the duress, threats and intimidation of Brady".

He said: "Her life was threatened, her grandmother's life was threatened, her sister's life was threatened and on one occasion she was throttled."

Mr Straw's decision to impose a whole life tariff could not be justified if the Home Secretary had accepted - as he now claimed he did - that Hindley was correct in saying she had been victimised by Brady, said Mr Fitzgerald.

"Quite clearly, while not excusing these appalling offences, that has to be taken into account in her favour.

"If that is the case, one cannot on that basis impose the maximum penalty which is possible." To do so, Mr Fitzgerald said, would offend against the sentencing principle "that the worst penalty must be reserved for the worst case".

He said there had been other cases where equally horrific offences had been committed and whole life tariffs were not imposed.

"On that basis there are grounds for finding that it is the notoriety and unpopularity [of Hindley], rather than the intrinsic necessity for a whole life tariff, which was the determinant of the whole life tariff."

Hindley's lawyers argue that the 1990 whole life tariff, imposed by David Waddington, then home secretary, "offended against basic principles of justice" by increasing her "fixed" tariff of 30 years.

Mr Fitzgerald is asking Lord Woolf, sitting with Lord Justice Hutchinson and Lord Justice Judge, to overturn a ruling by three High Court judges, led by Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice.

Last December, Lord Bingham ruled that home secretaries did have the power to decide that a life sentence will mean life. But he did not rule out that one day Hindley could be released "in exceptional circumstances".

In 1982 Lord Lane, then Lord Chief Justice, advised that Hindley serve not less than 25 years. Four home secretaries have subsequently intervened. In 1985 Leon Brittan fixed the minimum term at 30 years for Hindley and 40 for Brady.

Then in 1990 Mr Waddington imposed a whole life tariff, subsequently upheld by Michael Howard and Mr Straw.

The hearing is being regarded as a test case that could affect the 26 other prisoners with whole life tariffs, including Rosemary West, 43, convicted of murdering 10 women and girls, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, sentenced to life in 1981, and Dennis Nilsen, jailed in 1983 for strangling and dismembering a dozen drifters in his London flat.