Whole-life orders: Sentence that means criminals are likely to die behind bars

More than 60 of the country’s most dangerous offenders have received the most severe sentence that can be passed in the UK.

Callum Parke
Wednesday 20 December 2023 12:08 GMT
Lawrence Bierton will likely die behind bars after being given a whole-life order (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Lawrence Bierton will likely die behind bars after being given a whole-life order (Anthony Devlin/PA) (PA Archive)

Lawrence Bierton has joined some of the country’s most dangerous offenders who are expected to die behind bars after being given a whole-life order for the murder of Pauline Quinn.

Bierton, 63, was on licence from a life sentence for two murders committed in 1995 when he bludgeoned his elderly neighbour, Pauline Quinn, to death with a coffee table at her Nottinghamshire home on November 9 2021.

Prosecutors described the murder of “defenceless” 73-year-old Ms Quinn as “brutal” and “vicious”, claiming she had been killed “in the most egregious way” at her home in Rayton Spur, Worksop.

Whole-life orders are the most severe penalty available in the country’s criminal justice system and are reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes.

At the time of Ms Quinn’s death, Bierton was on licence for the murders of Aileen Dudill and Elsie Gregory at their home in Rotherham, South Yorkshire in 1995.

They were bludgeoned and suffocated by Bierton and a co-defendant before their bodies were set on fire.

Bierton was jailed for his third murder at Nottingham Crown Court on Wednesday and is believed to be the first prisoner to receive a whole-life order in the city since 2005, when Mark Martin was imprisoned for murdering three homeless women.

He is also the first recipient of the sentence in the country since serial killer Lucy Letby, with other recipients of whole-life orders including Sarah Everard’s killer, Wayne Couzens; necrophiliac David Fuller; and homegrown terrorist Ali Harbi Ali, who murdered MP Sir David Amess.

More than 60 criminals are serving a whole-life order, four of whom are being held in secure hospitals. They will never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Only four women have faced such a punishment: the girlfriend of Moors murderer Ian Brady, Myra Hindley – who died in 2002 – and serial killers Rose West, Joanna Dennehy and Letby.

Letby was jailed in August this year for what a judge described as a “cruel, calculated and cynical campaign” of baby murder in the hospital where she worked.

Gun fanatic Louis De Zoysa was handed such a sentence in July after shooting Metropolitan Police custody sergeant Matt Ratana while handcuffed in a police cell in 2020.

In December 2022, killer Damien Bendall began serving a whole-life order for murdering his partner, Terri Harris, 35; her daughter Lacey Bennett, 11; her son John Paul Bennett, 13; and Lacey’s friend, Connie Gent, also 11, who was staying for a sleepover.

A year earlier, Fuller was handed the same sentence for the murders of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987 and the sexual abuse of more than 100 dead women and girls in hospital mortuaries.

Milly Dowler’s killer, Levi Bellfield, is serving two whole-life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Other notorious criminals serving whole-life orders include Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones in Wales; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox; serial killer Stephen Port and, more recently, the Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah, who murdered three men in a park.

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole-life tariffs, as they were previously known, and these are now determined by judges.

Before they died, Brady, as well as the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those handed such a punishment.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which became law last year, the Government expanded the use of whole-life orders for the premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life, and the discretion to impose the sentence on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21 in exceptional circumstances.

Manchester Arena bomb plotter Hashem Abedi, who was convicted of conspiring with his suicide-bomber brother Salman Abedi over the 2017 atrocity, avoided a whole-life order because he was 21 at the time.

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