Double child killer and rapist Colin Pitchfork freed from jail despite appeals

1 September 2021, 11:30 | Updated: 2 September 2021, 06:16

Colin Pitchfork has been released from prison after almost 30 years
Colin Pitchfork has been released from prison after almost 30 years. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Double child killer and rapist Colin Pitchfork has been released from prison after attempts to keep him in jail for longer failed.

The newly-freed man, now in his early 60s, was jailed for life after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.

He was the first person to be convicted of murder thanks to DNA evidence in 1988 as he admitted two murders, two rapes, two indecent assaults and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Pitchfork had two years shaved off his 30-year minimum in 2009 and he was moved to an open prison three years ago, before being released on Wednesday.

Read more: Pitchfork to be released this week after rejected appeal

Read more: Tory MP brands Colin Pitchfork release 'deeply regrettable'

Following his release, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Our heartfelt sympathies remain with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth following the independent Parole Board's decision to release Colin Pitchfork.

"Public safety is our top priority, which is why he is subject to some of the strictest licence conditions ever set and will remain under supervision for the rest of his life.

"If he breaches these conditions, he faces an immediate return to prison."

Read more: Pitchfork to be released from prison after Govt challenge rejected

Watch: Matthew Wright in furious row with caller over Colin Pitchfork release

Responding to reports of Pitchfork's release earlier in the day, LBC presenter Nick Ferrari said: "If you don't get life for murdering two 15-year-old girls, apart by the way... this was carefully premeditated, it's not one night of temporary insanity, you've plotted it once and you've plotted it again and you've carried out the attacks again, almost in similar circumstances.

"If that doesn't get you life, for the love of God, what does?

"And when this poor mum - can you imagine, she was the mother of his second victim - says: 'It's a day I knew was coming, I've had to resign myself to it, I just hope no other girl meets the same fate,' then why are they even playing with this?

"This man is still relatively young - 61 - and when campaigners say this goes back to the mid-80s, I don't care if it goes back to the mid-50s.

"Two 15-year-old girls, for me, is enough. The door shuts, you're never coming out. And if you go through all sorts of mental turmoil and anguish, well, good. You shouldn't rape and murder two underage girls."

Reacting to the release, Barbara Ashworth, mother of Dawn, said: "Well it was on the books that he was going to be released, but I don't think he should be breathing the same air as us.

"It goes without saying that life should have meant life in his case, because he said he was guilty of the offences, the murders of both the girls... and he did a lot more besides."

Asked if she was surprised Pitchfork had become eligible for release, Ms Ashworth replied: "Yes, I think so. They did say that if it had been done today he wouldn't have been let out.

"But that doesn't excuse anything. I don't have my daughter back or any of the hopes and dreams that she had in her life.

"She was my only daughter and you live your life through them and their future - but that was taken away."

After a hearing in March, the Parole Board ruled Pitchfork was "suitable for release" despite having been denied freedom in 2016 and 2018.

In June, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asked the independent body to re-examine its decision under the so-called reconsideration mechanism.

However, the board rejected the government challenge the following month, announcing the application to reconsider the decision had been refused.

South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa, who has campaigned against the killer's release, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision and said he had done all he could to halt it.

Mr Buckland also expressed his disappointment but said he respected the decision.

Pitchfork will be placed on the sex offenders' register and will have to adhere to other licence conditions, such as living at a designated address, being supervised by probation, wearing an electronic tag, taking part in polygraph - lie detector - tests, disclosing what vehicles he uses and who he speaks to, while facing particular limits on contact with children.

He will also be subject to a curfew, have restrictions on using technology and limitations on where he can go.

The government plans to overhaul the parole system, with the findings of a review expected later this year. It has also sought to change the law so child killers face life behind bars without parole.

Mr Costa said: "I am extremely saddened and deeply disappointed that the convicted child rapist and killer Colin Pitchfork has today been released from prison.

"Since I was first elected MP for South Leicestershire, where Pitchfork's heinous crimes took place, I have worked tirelessly on behalf of my constituents and countless others to oppose his release.

"While I respect the Parole Board's decision to reject the government's challenge against his release, I do not agree with it. In my view, Pitchfork still presents a very real danger to the public.

"This case has made clear that the Parole Board's opaque practices and processes must be reformed, and the system must work better for victims and their families, and I very much look forward to helping to shape the system for the better in the government's forthcoming root-and-branch review of the Parole Board.

"Questions will, of course, remain as to whether someone who has committed such heinous crimes should ever be released, in cases such as these where two innocent girls were murdered in the most horrendous fashion, life should simply mean life.

"My thoughts today, as ever, are with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth."