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
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit