The child murderer Myra Hindley is "uniquely evil" and should remain in prison for the rest of her life, the House of Lords ruled yesterday.
Five law lords unanimously held that a life sentence handed down to Hindley, who tortured and murdered two children with her lover, Ian Brady, should mean life and she should die in jail. Since Hindley and Brady were convicted 34 years ago a succession of home secretaries have rejected a series of appeals to lighten their sentences.
Yesterday Lord Steyn, one of the law lords examining Hindley's latest appeal, backed this policy. He said: "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." He ruled that for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to maintain a "whole life" tariff in Hindley's case was lawful.
The ruling, which is being treated as a test case affecting other high-profile killers, means the Home Secretary is entitled to impose "whole life" tariffs as punishment for the most heinous offences - provided they are kept under review. Hindley's lawyers said they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on the legality of a special tariff for specialprisoners.
They said they would also challenge the decision to condemn Hindley to a full life in jail after she had already been sentenced, which they said was "an unacceptable process of retrospectively increasing her punishment". Last year the European Court ruled that the Home Secretary was wrong to interfere with the tariff of the two murderers of James Bulger. The court said that the intervention by Michael Howard, who was Home Secretary at the time, to impose a minimum sentence on the killers was a violation of their human rights.
The public revulsion still felt about the murders committed by Hindley and Brady means any decision relating to their imprisonment will always be a political one. Hindley's barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, told the Lords in February: "There is no dispute that her crimes were of the utmost gravity and deserving of punishment." But, he added: "There is uncontradictable evidence that she has reformed and presents no danger to society."
Hindley and Brady recorded their victims' cries on audio tape as they tortured and killed them. One tape heard during their trial in 1966 was the voice of 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey, whimpering: "I want to see my mummy. Please God, help me." In 1987 the pair confessed to the killings of Pauline Reade, whose body was found buried on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester, and Keith Bennett, whose body was neverfound.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We welcome the unanimous decision of the House of Lords, confirming earlier unanimous decisions by the Divisional Court and Court of Appeal that the whole life tariff is lawful in principle and has been lawfully applied in this dreadful case."
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