Police killer will ask High Court to clear way for his release

Harry Roberts mounts a legal campaign to gain access to 'secret evidence' he claims is prejudicing his case for release

Britain's most notorious police killer, Harry Roberts, will attempt tomorrow to clear the way for his release from prison after 36 years by bringing a High Court legal action against the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

In papers submitted to the court, Roberts claims that Mr Blunkett acted unlawfully in trying to block his release by using a dossier of "secret evidence" against him.

The case, which will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, could help Roberts, 66, to gain his freedom by December.

He became one of the most infamous prisoners in modern history when he was jailed in 1966 for the murder of three unarmed police officers in Shepherd's Bush, west London. He had evaded capture for three months despite the biggest manhunt in Britain.

The case caused moral outrage over rising criminality in Sixties society and Roberts, who is now one of the country's longest-serving prisoners, has consistently faced strident police opposition to his release from custody.

Mr Blunkett's dossier is believed to be largely based on police intelligence on Roberts, compiled last year when the prisoner was on day release from open prison.

Tomorrow's court hearing follows the refusal of the Parole Board to consider Roberts' case on the basis of the Home Secretary's file of evidence. The board considered that his legal representatives should have the opportunity to challenge the material.

It told Mr Blunkett of its decision in June, after the ground-breaking Stafford ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that prisoners are entitled to independent determination of their suitability for release rather than having their liberty decided by the ruling of a politician.

Proceedings against Mr Blunkett were begun in August in an attempt to use the Stafford ruling to persuade the High Court to compel the Home Secretary to hand the material to Roberts' lawyers.

Simon Creighton, the solicitor representing Roberts, said the Home Office had for the past 10 years used a system that allowed sensitive material in parole reviews to be disclosed to a legal representative alone.

The system was used in the review of the release of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the child killers of the Liverpool toddler James Bulger.

Mr Creighton said: "No explanation has ever been given as to why this procedure should not be adopted in Mr Roberts' case. There is no other procedure where a person's liberty is decided on the basis of secret evidence."

He pointed out that even terror suspects held in jail under new post-11 September emergency legislation had the right to have secret material about them viewed by a special advocate who could represent their case.

If Roberts is successful, he is likely to appear in front of the Parole Board by the end of the year and could be released immediately.

Such a prospect would alarm relatives of the police officers, who were shot after Roberts and his gang were stopped while planning an armed robbery. Roberts killed Detective Constable David Wombwell and Sergeant Christopher Head. His accomplice John Duddy then shot Constable Geoffrey Fox.

Duddy died in jail and a third member of the gang, Jack Witney, was murdered after his release in 1999.

At Roberts' trial at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Glyn-Jones ordered he serve at least 30 years. He added: "I think it likely that no Home Secretary, regarding the enormity of your crimes, will ever think fit to show mercy by releasing you."

DC Wombwell's widow, Gillian, told a newspaper last year that she could not face the thought of Roberts being released. "Too much care and sympathy goes with the criminal but not enough with the widows and children," she said. "The man is and was a criminal."

The Roberts case, which was the basis of the recent bestselling novel He Kills Coppers by Jake Arnott, has become part of British folklore. Football hooligans have for decades used the killer's name to taunt police officers with chants of "Harry Roberts, he's our friend, he's our friend, he's our friend – he kills coppers ... Let him out to kill some more, kill some more ..."

Roberts began behaving as a model prisoner in the early Nineties. He was transferred in 1999 to open prison, from where he was allowed out each day to work unsupervised at the St Bernard's Animal Sanctuary in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Then on 1 October last year he was recalled to closed prison conditions. He was placed in solitary confinement and told he was being punished for taking driving lessons in contravention of his licence.

The next month, newspapers reported that off-duty police officers had seen Roberts mixing with known criminals in London.

Roberts claims that prison staff were aware of his driving lessons, which were part of his preparation for release, and that the stories that he visited London were simply untrue.

The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has pledged to oppose any move to free the killer, who in turn claims he is being tortured by not being given a release date.

"I'm not going to get into trouble again, am I?" Roberts claimed in an interview six years ago. Nobody would want to work with me, for a start. I'm too hot. I'm finished with all that and they know it."

Suggested Topics
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The number of GP practices with 10 or more doctors has grown by 75 per cent
science
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game