In the Courts: Hindley must stay in jail for rest of her life

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The Independent Online
Myra Hindley, the Moors murderer, is to spend the rest of her life in jail after High Court judges ruled yesterday that the Home Secretary's `life meant life' decision was lawful. But, says Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, the judgment was overshadowed by an embarrassing leak.

An investigation began yesterday into the source for a tabloid newspaper story declaring that Hindley had lost her case - published hours before the verdict was delivered.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, who gave the main judgment, said it was "utterly unacceptable" that parties involved in a case should learn of the decision through a newspaper article.

He asked barristers for Hindley - who is appealing against the judgment - and the Home Secretary to find out how the leak had occurred.

Assuming the Daily Mail's story yesterday was not simply a lucky guess, the leak of the judgment in such a high-profile case is an embarrassment. The investigation ordered by the Lord Chief Justice will cover the narrow group of people with access to the advance copy; the barristers, junior counsel and instructing solicitors on either side.

Any lawyer found to have leaked such a judgment could face contempt of court proceedings and disciplinary action from the Bar Council or Law Society.

By convention, the clients - Hindley and the Home Secretary Jack Straw - should be told just one hour before the judgement is delivered.

Yesterday, the Home Office said it had "no idea" where the leak came from. Hindley's QC, Edward Fitzgerald, told the court that none of her legal team had spoken to or been approached by journalists, and said the implication in the tabloid story that her lawyers may have been the source were potentially defamatory. The Daily Mail said it got the story through "entirely legitimate journalistic methods

In the judgement, the three judges unanimously rejected Hindley's claims that first Michael Howard then Mr Straw last month had unlawfully given her a "whole life" tariff, after she had earlier been given a provisional 30-year tariff. Giving judgment, Lord Bingham ruled that Mr Howard's December 1994 decision that effectively ruled out hope of release for life tariff prisoners had been unlawful.

But Mr Straw's modified policy, announced last month, under which prisoners who show "exceptional progress" could have their case reviewed, was held to be lawful. However, Lord Bingham said he was "uneasily conscious" that a wider question was not being considered. "There is room for serious debate [as to] whether the task of determining how long convicted murderers should serve ... should be undertaken by the judiciary or, as now, the executive."

The Lord Chief Justice said that Hindley, who was jailed in 1966 for the murders of Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and Edward Evans, 17, felt she was in prison simply because no Home Secretary dared face the backlash of releasing her.

Mr Pannick said that if Hindley now wanted her case reviewed on the grounds of "exceptional progress", the Home Secretary would consider the matter.

Lord Longford, who has campaigned for Hindley's releases on parole, said her imprisonment for life was "iniquitous". Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, one of three other victims of Ian Brady and in whose murder Hindley admitted her involvement in 1987, said she was "pleased" by the decision but angered by Hindley's constant right to appeal.