Inmates at Cookham Wood Prison, Kent, believe that Carol Hanson killed herself days after reading of the renewed determination of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to ensure that certain lifers should die behind bars, although police have said they are not treating the death as suspicious.
Mrs Hanson, 50, convicted with her husband of the murder in March 1970 of a 10-year-old girl, had received no publicity for 25 years and the principal prison pressure groups were unaware of the length of the sentence she had served. No one had campaigned on her behalf.
She was understood to have applied for parole. It appeared at the weekend that she had not done so before because her "tariff" - the set time a lifer must actually serve - had been increased by an unknown home secretary beyond the recommendation of "at least 20 years" which was made at Hertfordshire Assizes by Mr Justice Melford Stevenson in July 1970.
Mrs Hanson had been sentenced along with her husband, Michael, an Army private, for the murder of 10-year-old Christine Beck, who was raped and stabbed to death.
Four days into the trial Michael Hanson confessed to his lawyer that his wife had had nothing to do with the killing, saying that he alone killed the girl and that he had implicated his wife because he was afraid she would have affairs while he was in prison.
However, because Mr Hanson refused to change his plea from not guilty, his QC made no reference to his confession at the time and the jury in the trial were never told of it.
Later, Michael Hanson repeated his confession to his wife's lawyers and they mounted an appeal in the High Court, but both her appeal against conviction and an application for a new trial were turned down by Lord Justice Widgery, who said that Carol Hanson had been "unlucky".
He said that, had her husband's confession been "less eccentric", and had he pleaded guilty, Mrs Hanson might have had a separate trial. "She was unlucky," he said. "But ill luck does not itself justify a conclusion that the verdict was unsafe."
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