Killer and rapist would leave jail without signing sex offenders' register due to legal loophole

9 December 2022, 07:43 | Updated: 9 December 2022, 10:09

Ling murdered Joanne in 1997
Ling murdered Joanne in 1997. Picture: LBC

By Sarah Collins

A mother whose daughter was murdered on Christmas Day in 1997 has told LBC that her daughter's killer and rapist could be released from prison in the spring without having signed the sex offenders' register. 

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Stephen Ling murdered Joanne Tulip in a horrific attack at his home in Stamfordham, Northumbria. He stabbed her 60 times before carving images including swastikas and crosses into her body.

Ling, who was 23 at the time of the killing, admitted raping 29-year-old Joanne, but the charge was allowed to lie on file by the trial judge because the murder was the greater charge.

That means if he's ever released from prison, he won't be on the sex offender's register.

Earlier this year, the parole board recommended Stephen Ling for open prison, a decision overturned by the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, Ling's next parole hearing is scheduled to take place this May.

Joanne's mother Doreen Soulsby told LBC: "It's not until later on that you think 'my God, he's not a convicted sex offender'.

"That's when my campaigning started. I just thought, this is ridiculous. So, I campaigned for that to try and get the rape back in court, but no. Years and years of writing letters and banging away, and didn't get anything.

Joanne was murdered in 1997
Joanne was murdered in 1997. Picture: LBC

"He could be living on your street, and you wouldn't know he's a sex offender."

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Joanne met Ling, then a farm worker, in a pub. She was in Stamfordham to see her father for Christmas Eve.

He went back to her father’s home before she went with him to his own house, he said.

In his statement, Ling claimed she pushed him away when he tried to kiss her, then he hit her and stabbed her during the assault.

"I don't know why I did it," he said. The killer also admitted her rape.

He said he went to make coffee before picking up knives, stabbing her and using a pillow to smother her. He then set her body on fire and fled the scene.

A judge told Ling at the time of his sentencing he will "never be released so long as it is thought you constitute a danger to women".

Doreen's story isn't the only example where this has happened.

LBC has made requests to the Ministry of Justice to find out how many killers are in the same position but that the Freedom of Information requests were too expensive to complete, and beyond the limits allowed under law.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: "Our guidance is absolutely clear – rape charges should only be left to lie on file in exceptional circumstances.

"Regardless of the tariff, or likely tariff to be passed following a conviction for murder, any such decision should only be taken after very careful consideration. Prosecutors will also seek the views of victims' families in these serious circumstances."

Labour's shadow minister for domestic abuse, Jess Phillips, said she has worked with other victim's families in the same situation.

"I'm afraid I've picked up a case of this very recently. It's in the case of a manslaughter, a killing where the family has brought to me that they don’t think any of the sexual crimes were even considered even though they were very obvious as part of the investigation and that’s a case from 2018," she said.

Stephen Ling will not be on the sex offenders' register
Stephen Ling will not be on the sex offenders' register. Picture: Police

"So, the Soulsby case, we are talking historically but I'm seeing cases from 2018/19, where this is a concern for the families.

"Somebody was brutally murdered and sexually assaulted and there is evidence that this the case, for them not to be tried and therefore not on the sex offenders register and there being no mechanism to rectify that or test that, I think people hearing Doreen's case would be astounded that they aren't being tried."

Alan Collins, a partner at law firm Hugh James in London, said Parliament need to address loopholes in the law.

"I think the Stephen Ling case, in my opinion, exposes a gap in the law that needs to be plugged. I think there are two big gaps at the moment when it comes to offenders like this - one is the ease with which they're able to change their name and secondly, if they are not on the register but have committed offences that have got a sexual element to it, they're not on the register when clearly they should be," he said.

"We only discover these loopholes when terrible cases come to light, then discover there's more, I can't say there are X amount of cases where this loophole is in play but it does exist and it needs to be plugged."

Doreen said: "You do feel very much alone, there's no one fighting your corner. I have to keep fighting for Joanne, she can’t do it for herself, so I have to. I’ll keep fighting that, until my last breath."