Shipman, West and Brady may win early release

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The law lords' ruling affects 225 life-sentence prisoners who have had their minimum terms set by Home Secretaries, including 70 who have already served longer than judges recommended.

The law lords' ruling affects 225 life-sentence prisoners who have had their minimum terms set by Home Secretaries, including 70 who have already served longer than judges recommended.

They will be able to bring their cases before a judicial authority and have their minimum sentences or "tariffs" reconsidered. Among those eligible are the most notorious killers in England and Wales, including 22 prisoners on a list of inmates never to be released.

But it would be wrong to see the judiciary as a soft touch. Although some senior judges have misgivings over the principle of a "natural-life" tariff, they are not opposed to the idea that a prisoner should die in jail because their crimes are so serious. It is possible that "whole-life" prisoners may instead face very long fixed tariffs that almost guarantee they will never be released.

There are 3,900 prisoners life-sentence prisoners in England and Wales and their average tariff is 14 years. In 87 per cent of cases, the Home Secretary concurs with the tariff set by the Lord Chief Justice. The other 13 per cent are split between those where the Home Secretary reduces the tariff and those where the minimum term is increased.

HAROLD SHIPMAN
Age: 54
Crime: Jailed for life for the murder of 15 patients but believed to have killed 236.
Jailed: January 2000
Home Secretary: In a written parliamentary answer in July last year, David Blunkett said the "heinous" nature of the crimes meant only a whole-life tariff was appropriate.

IAN BRADY
Age: 64
Crime: Given two life sentences for murdering Lesley-Ann Downey, 10, John Kilbride, 12, and Edward Evans, 17. Later found to have committed two other murders.
Jailed: 1966
Home Secretary: On the list of 22 whole-life prisoners who should never be released, he is fighting a legal battle from Ashworth high-security hospital in Merseyside for the right to be allowed to starve to death.

ROY WHITING
Age: 43
Crime: Paedophile who abducted and murdered the schoolgirl Sarah Payne, eight.
Jailed: 2001
Home Secretary: Mr Blunkett ruled last weekend that he should serve at least 50 years.

HARRY ROBERTS
Age: 66
Crime: Jailed for murders of three unarmed policemen in Shepherd's Bush, west London.
Jailed: 1966.
Home Secretary: The trial judge, Mr Justice Glyn-Jones, ordered that Roberts serve at least 30 years. The Home Secretary has resisted attempts to have the case referred to the Parole Board.

WINSTON SILCOTT
Age: 42
Crime: Given a life sentence for the murder of Anthony Smith at a party in London in 1984. Cleared of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots.
Jailed: Sentenced in 1986.
Home Secretary: Has served two years beyond the 14-year tariff recommended. Being prepared for release but supporters claim he has been kept in custody for political reasons.

DENNIS NILSEN
Age: 56
Crime: Jailed for life for six murders and two attempted murders after he picked up rent boys and homeless men in gay clubs and killed and dismembered them.
Jailed: 1983
Home Secretary: Placed on the whole-life tariff list.

ROSEMARY WEST
Age: 48
Crime: Helped her husband, Fred, to rape, torture and kill young women. Victims included Heather, her daughter, and Charmaine, her stepdaughter.
Jailed: 1995
Home Secretary: Placed on whole-life tariff list.

DONALD NEILSON
Age: 62
Crime: Known as the Black Panther, he shot dead three post office workers and then kidnapped and murdered 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle.
Jailed: 1975
Home Secretary: Placed on whole-life tariff list.