Furious relatives of two schoolgirls murdered by a notorious paedophile have condemned a decision to let him go free.
The Parole Board has approved the release of Colin Pitchfork, who raped and strangled the 15-year-olds in sadistic attacks in the 1980s.
The mother of Dawn Ashworth said the killer – the first to be convicted on DNA evidence – ‘will always present a danger’.
And the sister of his first victim Lynda Mann said she believed he was incapable of rehabilitation.
Pitchfork, now 61, could be free in weeks. But Justice Secretary Robert Buckland ordered officials to look into whether he could trigger a formal review last night – as another MP vowed to get the Parole Board decision overturned.
It plunged the Parole Board into crisis just three years after its chairman Nick Hardwick was forced to resign over its decision to free black-cab rapist John Worboys.
Double-murderer Colin Pitchfork, who was jailed for life for strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth to death in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986, will be allowed to leave prison after being approved for release by the Parole Board
Pitchfork was handed a life sentence in 1988 for the murders of Lynda and Dawn three years apart in neighbouring Leicestershire villages.
At the time the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said: ‘From the point of view of the safety of the public I doubt if he should ever be released.’
The killer was handed a minimum term of 30 years, cut to 28 years in 2009. He has previously been denied parole twice – in 2016 and 2018.
Barbara Ashworth, whose daughter was strangled to death after a ‘particularly violent rape’ in 1986 as she walked home in Enderby, told of her heartache last night at the news Pitchfork had been approved for release.
And she warned that the devious monster could be ‘pulling the wool’ over the Parole Board’s eyes.
She said: ‘This news is so upsetting. There are still 15-year-old girls wandering around and this man could still have 20 years of his life to abuse them.
Victims: Furious relatives of two schoolgirls murdered by a notorious paedophile have condemned a decision to let him go free
Barbara Ashworth (pictured with husband Robin), whose daughter was strangled to death after a ‘particularly violent rape’ in 1986 as she walked home in Enderby, told of her heartache last night at the news Pitchfork had been approved for release
‘He can’t hurt me any more than he has done – Pitchfork ripped my family and I apart – but he can hurt other young girls. I can’t understand how he has suddenly been judged fit for release when he was turned down before.’
Mrs Ashworth, 75, from Liskeard, Cornwall, added: ‘This is a man who has displayed psychopathic tendencies – a man who thought he was clever enough to outwit police at the time of the murders by dodging the mass blood testing exercise. He nearly succeeded.
‘I wouldn’t put it past him to have duped the authorities into believing he was reformed and rehabilitated now. He will always be a danger.’
Sue Gratrick, 55, whose sister Lynda was killed in 1983 less than a mile away from the attack on Dawn in the village of Narborough, said the decision to release Pitchfork was ‘crazy’.
Mrs Gratrick, a taxi office worker, said: ‘As a family we are so upset by this news. I don’t believe somebody guilty of acts such as those he did is capable of being rehabilitated.
‘Every time he comes up for parole, or there is some other development such as him being granted day release, our pain is heightened once more.’
How his sentence was reduced
When Colin Pitchfork was convicted, the most senior judge in England Lord Lane said: ‘I doubt if he should ever be released.’
But the decision on how long such offenders should serve before eligibility for parole was political. Then Home Secretary Douglas Hurd set the ‘minimum tariff’ at 30 years.
In Pitchfork’s case there was never any public discussion about his suitability for a tougher ‘whole life’ tariff.
Years later, Labour’s Criminal Justice Act 2003 allowed serious criminals to apply for a review of their minimum terms. When Pitchfork used this to win an appeal in 2009, senior judges discussed the issue of a whole life tariff.
Their ruling said Lord Lane and the original trial judge ‘could not anticipate… he would cease to represent a danger to public safety’.
They reduced his term to 28 years because he had made ‘exceptional progress’ behind bars.
Dawn’s uncle Philip Musson, 67, from Newark, Nottinghamshire, added: ‘We are totally opposed to the notion of killers – let alone child killers – having parole.
‘A life sentence ought to mean life because a life is something that wasn’t afforded to Dawn as a result of the actions of this man.’
South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa branded the Parole Board’s decision ‘appalling’ and ‘disgusting’, and said his constituents have never forgotten Pitchfork’s ‘repugnant’ crimes.
He added: ‘There are some crimes so heinous that those responsible should not be released. Raping and murdering teenage girls is as bad as it gets.’
He added that he would lobby for a rethink of the parole ruling.
Pitchfork was the first man convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence – although he tried to escape a mass test by sending a workmate to give a sample.
He also stood by as Richard Buckland, a 17-year-old local with learning difficulties, was accused of one the crimes.
He was jailed for life at Leicester Crown Court in 1988 after pleading guilty to two offences of murder, two of rape, two of indecent assault and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Pitchfork, who now calls himself David Thorpe, was moved to Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire in 2017 and has been spotted on day release walking the streets of Bristol.
A new Parole Board hearing on his case took place in March and the decision was published yesterday.
A document detailing the ruling said: ‘After considering the circumstances of his offending, the progress made while in custody and the evidence presented at the hearing, the panel was satisfied that Mr Pitchfork was suitable for release.’
Ministry of Justice officials are considering if it is appropriate to order the Parole Board to use a new ‘reconsideration mechanism’ after the Justice Secretary intervened.
The procedure was introduced in 2019 in the wake of scandal surrounding the board’s decision to approve the release of Worboys, who was convicted of attacks on 12 women in his London taxi.
Pitchfork’s case was most recently refused by the Parole Board in 2018. Since then, he has been kept at Leyhill Prison, an open prison in Gloucestershire
Mr Buckland can apply for a review if an internal review by prisons and probation experts concludes the decision was ‘procedurally unfair’ or ‘irrational’.
A source close to Mr Buckland said: ‘We will take legal advice to see if it’s worth using the mechanism in this case. If Pitchfork was sentenced under the reforms we’re making… he’d have got life without the possibility of parole.’
Pitchfork’s release would be subject to conditions including lie detector tests, wearing an electronic tag and observing a curfew at a specified address.
The ‘root and branch’ review of the Parole Board was ordered by Mr Buckland last year and is due to be completed this summer.
Sadist put his baby in the back of the car – then raped and strangled teenager nearby
By David Barrett Home Affairs Correspondent
Colin Pitchfork’s sadistic sexual murders were among the most notorious crimes of the Eighties.
In November 1983, he attacked 15-year-old Lynda Mann as she took a shortcut home from babysitting in the Leicestershire village of Narborough.
Baker and cake decorator Pitchfork, a 23-year-old father of two, raped her and then strangled her to death with her own scarf.
Throughout the incident his car was parked nearby, with his baby son asleep in the back of it.
Lynda’s half-naked body was not found until the next day.
Years later, under police interview, Pitchfork described how his first victim had been terrified and in fear of her life.
Colin Pitchfork’s sadistic sexual murders were among the most notorious crimes of the Eighties. Pictured: Pitchfork’s mugshot after his eventual arrest in connection to the killings
Just under three years later, less than a mile away from the scene of Lynda’s murder, Pitchfork viciously claimed another young life.
Dawn Ashworth, also 15, was attacked in the village of Enderby as she was walking home.
Legal papers in one of Pitchfork’s appeals said described his assault on the schoolgirl as a ‘particularly violent rape’.
‘The girl herself had put up a considerable struggle. There was substantial bruising consistent with at least two punches to the side of her face, and another to the front,’ it went on.
‘There were large grip marks, bruises to her upper arms. The pathologist described a “brutal sexual attack”.’
The pathologist also concluded that sexual assaults may have continued after Dawn was strangled to death. Her body, too, was half-naked when it was discovered two days later.
The killer had form for other sex crimes. He indecently assaulted a 16-year-old girl in 1979, and in 1985 – between the two murders – he attacked another girl, also 16, holding a screwdriver to her throat while he sexually assaulted her behind some lock-up garages.
In November 1983, he attacked 15-year-old Lynda Mann as she took a shortcut home from babysitting in the Leicestershire village of Narborough. He raped her and then strangled her to death with her own scarf. Pictured: The crime scene
After Dawn’s murder, police obtained a forensic sample of her attacker from her body and, in early 1987, launched what was then a groundbreaking DNA trawl in a bid to find the killer. Local men were asked to give saliva and blood samples to rule themselves out of the police inquiry.
Pitchfork, knowing that he would be caught if he took part, persuaded a colleague at the bakery where he worked to impersonate him and give a blood sample under his name.
However, the colleague later boasted about the masquerade while drinking with fellow workers in a Leicester pub, and police were informed. Pitchfork was arrested in September 1987 – nearly four years after he first killed – and was charged with the murders and rapes.
He pleaded guilty. A psychiatric report at the hearing described a ‘personality disorder of psychopathic type accompanied by serious psychosexual pathology’.
It observed that Pitchfork ‘will obviously continue to be an extremely dangerous individual while the psycho-pathology continues’.
The judge who oversaw his sentencings, Mr Justice Otton, observed that Pitchfork’s rapes and murders ‘were of a particularly sadistic kind’.