Judge's decision raises prospect of release for Myra Hindley

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The Independent Online

Yesterday's ruling on Jon Venables and Robert Thompson will increase speculation that the Lord Chief Justice will look favourably on the release from prison of Myra Hindley, the "moors murderer".

Yesterday's ruling on Jon Venables and Robert Thompson will increase speculation that the Lord Chief Justice will look favourably on the release from prison of Myra Hindley, the "moors murderer".

Lord Woolf indicated earlier this month that he was opposed to the idea that "life should mean life". The European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that a Home Secretary should not set the jail terms of juvenile killers like Venables and Thompson and Lord Woolf is now reviewing about 140 other such cases.

The Home Secretary's right to determine the jail terms of adult murderers is currently the subject of a court challenge under the Human Rights Act.

In an interview this month, Lord Woolf said: "Jack Straw says that the ruling [on juveniles] does not apply to adults. If he's wrong about that, I would expect him to do what he did with regard to juveniles. However reluctant he is, he will give way to it. He may not like it, but that is what he will do."

Lord Woolf told the New Statesman magazine: "I see no possible objection to sentencing someone to life, as long as there is in place a proper, objective machinery for review. We do not have that at present in cases such as Myra Hindley's."

Lord Woolf, 67, has a history of challenging political interference in the legal system. Harry Woolf, as he is known to his friends, is a staunch liberal and believer in rehabilitation who is troubled by the idea that any case is "so lacking in redemption that it will never be proper to release that person". As Master of the Rolls in 1997, he quashed the former home secretary Michael Howard's minimum sentence in the House of Lords, after a challenge through judicial review proceedings.

His 1991 report into the Strangeways prison riot and similar disturbances at five other jails was a hard-hitting critique of the conditions in jails across England and Wales. In the 600-page document he identified overcrowding and lack of sanitation as the key underlying cause of the country's worst prison riots. The Government adopted nearly all his recommendations, including an end to slopping out, the creation of community jails, a code of prison standards and improved conditions for remand prisoners.

He also criticised Mr Howard's "prison works" policy, saying talk of getting tough on crime was irresponsible and shortsighted.

Lord Woolf - who, like the Prime Minister, was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh - is also a supporter of Macmillan Cancer Research. He and his wife. Marguerite, a magistrate, spent a night in Brixton prison, south London, to raise funds for the charity.