Hindley fails in bid for prison release

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The Independent Online

Moors murderer Myra Hindley has failed in her House of Lords bid for release from prison.

Five law lords unanimously ruled that Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision that her life sentence "must mean life" was both lawful and justified in view of her "exceptionally wicked and uniquely evil" crimes.

In a test case affecting other notorious killers, the country's highest court ruled the Home Secretary was entitled to impose "whole-life" tariffs as punishment for the most heinous offences - provided they were kept under review.

Following today's landmark decision, Hindley's lawyers could still explore the possibility of further challenges under European human rights legislation.

Hindley, 57, is now in her 35th year of imprisonment following her conviction at the age of 23 at Chester Crown Court in May 1966 for helping her lover Ian Brady murder Lesley Ann Downey, 10 and Edward Evans, 17.

In a powerful ruling on the crime that shocked the nation, Lord Steyn said: "There is nothing logically inconsistent with the concept of a tariff by saying that there are cases where the crimes are so wicked that even if the prisoner is detained until he or she dies it will not exhaust the requirements of retribution and deterrence".

The judge threw out submissions that - given Hindley's age at the time of the killings, the fact she was dominated by Brady and the length of time she had already spent in prison - there was now no justifiable basis for maintaining the whole-life tariff.

Lord Steyn said: "Even in the sordid history of crimes against children the murders committed by Hindley, jointly with Ian Brady, were uniquely evil."

Confessions made by Hindley to the police in 1987 made it clear that the two murders on which she was convicted "were the culmination of a series of five murders committed by her and Brady" between July 1963 and October 1965.

She was an accessory after the fact to the earlier murder by Ian Brady of John Kilbride, 12, in that she drove Brady to Saddleworth Moor to dispose of the body.

In 1987 she also confessed to being involved in his abduction, knowing the fate in store for him and to being involved in the murders by Brady of Pauline Reade, 16, and Keith Bennett, 12.

Lord Steyn said: "They abducted, terrified, tortured and killed their victims before burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor."

Hindley was a woman "of competent understanding" and the argument that she was not the actual killer had to be put into perspective.

"Her role in the murders was pivotal. Without her active participation the five children would probably still be alive today.

"The pitiless and depraved ordeal of the victims, and the torment of their families, place these crimes in terms of comparative wickedness in an exceptional category."

Lord Steyn added: "If it be right, as I have held it to be, that life-long incarceration for the purposes of punishment is competent where the crime or crimes are sufficiently heinous, it is difficult to argue that this case is not in that category.

"In my view the decision of the Secretary of State to maintain a whole-life tariff in the case of Hindley is lawful."

Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lords Nicholls, Hutton and Hobhouse all agreed. They rejected Hindley's bid to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling in November 1998 upholding the decision of successive Home Secretaries that Hindley should be denied the chance of parole.

Lord Hobhouse pointed out that the whole-life tariff would be "reviewed at appropriate intervals" and Mr Straw had accepted the obligation to keep the case under review and act fairly.

This resolved any previous illegalities and inconsistencies in the whole-life tariff policy.

During the three-day hearing before the Lords in February, lawyers for Mr Straw had emphasised that he had no intention of "throwing away the key" to Hindley's cell, and in fact a new review of her case was likely to follow today's judgment.

While the Lords were considering their decision, Hindley claimed in a television documentary that she wished she had hanged for her crimes and said she still could not discuss the killing of youngest victim Lesley Ann Downey.

On March 10, a High Court judge rejected a bid by Brady, 62, for a ruling that he should be allowed to starve himself to death and not be subjected to force-feeding while on hunger strike at Ashworth Hospital on Merseyside.

He is still on hunger strike and still being force fed, said a spokesman at Ashworth top security hospital.

During the February hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC argued that Hindley herself was the victim of "inhumane and degrading treatment" in being denied any hope of parole.

Mr Fitzgerald said: "There is no dispute that her crimes were of the utmost gravity and deserving of punishment.

"But there is uncontradictable evidence that she has reformed and presents no danger to society."

The Parole Board had confirmed she had a case for release on licence by recommending that she be moved to an open prison, said Mr Fitzgerald.

There was "a basic injustice" because her case could not be properly put while she was still subject to a lifelong tariff.

He said that he was challenging the legality of whole-life tariffs in general, as well as Hindley's sentence.

At present 23 prisoners, including Hindley, face the prospect of death behind bars.

Hindley was told that she would be detained for the whole of her natural life in February 1997 by the then Home Secretary Michael Howard.

Mr Straw then took office and told her the following November that, subject to consideration of whether it might be appropriate to reduce her tariff because of exceptional progress, he saw no reason to depart from Mr Howard's decision.

Mr Fitzgerald told the law lords: "It is our submission that Parliament did not intend such a policy to be adopted whereby lifelong tariffs were predetermined on the grounds of gravity of the crime alone."

No minimum recommendation as to the term she should serve before being considered for parole was made at the time of Hindley's sentence - "and no suggestion was made for the next 20 years that she would be subject to a whole-life tariff".

Mr Fitzgerald added: "It is our submission that the increase cannot be justified by her confessions in 1987 and that it should not be justified, as it apparently was, by the fact that higher tariffs had started to be fixed from 1988 onwards."

An increase of such magnitude "cannot rationally be justified".

But David Pannick QC, representing the Home Secretary, described how the murders of Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans were only part of the story.

Hindley was also convicted of being an accessory after the fact to the earlier murder by Ian Brady of John Kilbride, 12, in that she drove Brady to Saddleworth Moor to dispose of the body.

In 1987 she also confessed to being involved in his abduction, knowing the fate in store for him.

Mr Pannick said it also became clearer in 1987 that her involvement in the murders by Brady of Pauline Reade, 16, and Keith Bennett, 12, showed the two killings for which she was given life sentences were the culmination of a series of five murders committed between July 1963 and October 1965.

Mr Straw had been entitled to believe her whole-life tariff "is what the appellant deserves by reason of the gravity of her crimes".

A spokesman for Hindley's legal team, Taylor Nicholl, said: "We are obviously disappointed by the outcome of this appeal.

"The judgment makes it clear however that the Home Secretary has a duty to reconsider Myra Hindley's case in the light of her progress in prison and the remorse she has shown by all her conduct, including the volunteering of further confessions in 1987.

"We will be putting representation to the Home Secretary on that issue.

"The House of Lords upheld the lawfulness of whole life tariffs.

"We will be making an application to the European Court to challenge that part of the judgment.

"In the judgment, it is admitted that the whole life tariff was fixed in accordance with a sentencing policy that is more severe than that which was applied when she was sentenced.

"That in itself discloses an unacceptable process of retrospectively increasing her punishment.

"That aspect of the judgment will also be subject to an appeal to the European Court.

"Myra Hindley has served 35 years in prison and we remain committed to securing her release."

There was criticism of the decision by penal campaigners.

John Wadham, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "The key question is whether these decisions are made by politicians or judges.

"With politicians constantly competing to be seen to be tough on crime, the chances of a fair and objective decision in such a difficult case are nil.

"Liberty believes that such decisions should be made by the courts, not by the Government."

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders also called for politicians to stay out of sentencing issues.

Director of policy Paul Cavadino criticised the concept of whole life tariffs.

He said: "Some offenders may have to be kept in prison for life because they continue to pose a danger to the public. But it is wrong to rule out release in advance whatever happens by way of remorse, ageing, infirmity or personal change in an offender."