Teenager who murdered student because she was dressed as a goth has sentence cut

Ryan Herbert has made ‘exceptional progress’ in jail since being locked up for beating Sophie Lancaster to death in 2007, judge says

Chiara Giordano
Tuesday 11 February 2020 13:43
Ryan Herbert (left) was 16 when he was handed a life sentence for murdering 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster (right) in a park in Bacup, Lancashire, in August 2007
Ryan Herbert (left) was 16 when he was handed a life sentence for murdering 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster (right) in a park in Bacup, Lancashire, in August 2007

One of the teenage killers who murdered a student because she dressed as a goth has had his minimum jail sentence cut by one year.

Ryan Herbert was just 16 when he was handed a life sentence for murdering 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, who died from her injuries after being viciously beaten in a Lancashire park in 2007.

He also admitted assault causing grievous bodily harm with intent to her boyfriend Robert Maltby and was given a minimum term of 16 years and three months — later reduced to 15-and-a-half years on appeal.

Herbert, now 28, of Bacup, Lancashire, had his tariff cut to 14-and-a-half years on Monday, after a High Court judge concluded he has made “exceptional progress” in jail.

A previous attempt by Herbert to have his minimum term reduced was rejected in 2016.

But Mr Justice William Davis said evidence from professionals at HMP Warren Hill, Suffolk, where Herbert has been since May 2017, indicated he had significantly improved since the earlier review.

The judge said he also received a letter from the directors of the Learning Together programme, based at the University of Cambridge, where Herbert has taken a law course that involves inmates and university students working together.

He said Herbert has taken on a mentoring role, has designed and delivered new sessions as part of the course, and was described in the letter as “one of the most reliable, sensitive and conscientious students” on the programme.

Robert Maltby, boyfriend of 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster, who was beaten to death at a park in Bacup, Lancashire, in August 2007.

He added: “The way in which Herbert has developed since his arrival at HMP Warren Hill some two-and-a-half years ago does amount to exceptional progress.”

The decision means Herbert will now be eligible to apply for parole in February 2022 — although he will not be released until the Parole Board is satisfied he no longer poses a danger to the public.

Brendan Harris, who was also found guilty of Ms Lancaster’s murder at Preston Crown Court in March 2008 and admitted the attack on Mr Maltby, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years.

A judge who carried out a review of his tariff in January concluded he had not made enough progress to have his sentence reduced.

Ms Lancaster’s mother Sylvia Lancaster said she was angry at the court’s decision.

She added: “I’m glad [Herbert] is doing well in prison but what is the point of a judge handing out a sentence only to have that overturned — it just doesn’t make sense.”

Herbert and Harris, then aged 15, and four other teenage boys “savagely and mercilessly attacked” Mr Maltby in Stubbylee Park, Bacup, during the early hours of 11 August, 2007.

Ms Lancaster rushed to help her boyfriend as he lay unconscious and pleaded with his attackers to leave him alone.

But Herbert and Harris then turned on her, subjecting her to a “sustained and vicious attack” that involved her head being kicked and stamped on until she too lost consciousness.

Ms Lancaster never regained consciousness and died in hospital 14 days later.

Mr Justice William Davis said it appeared the couple were attacked because they “looked and dressed differently”, and Herbert later told two people he encountered there were “two moshers nearly dead” in the park.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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