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The Right to Forgiveness

Issue

Whether it is appropriate that someone sentenced to life could be released after a minimum sentence?

Facts

Colin Pitchfork was sentenced to life after murdering Lynda Mann in 1983, and Dawn Ashworth in 1986, both aged 15, in Leicestershire. Pitchfork is the first man to have been convicted of murder due to the introduction of DNA confirmation, however, he initially managed to escape the tests by asking a colleague to do them. Pitchfork plead guilty to two offences of murder, two of rape, two of indecent assault and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in 1988. He was convicted to serve a minimum of 30 years, decreased on appeal to 28 years.

A parole hearing was held via video link on 22 March 2021 to deliberate whether he was in character for liberation. Pitchfork had first been rejected parole in 2016, then a second time in 2018, however, he was moved to an open prison – the procedure taken which prepares a long-term prisoner to be released back into the community. The decision was published at the beginning of June. Thereafter, the examination of the offenses’ circumstances, the progression during the custody, the oral hearing, probation officers, psychiatrists, and psychologists’ data and other reasons, the board was convinced that Mr Pitchfork was ready.

This outcome was called into question by the victims’ families. They were also astounded by the Labour party leader Sir Keir’s statement who suggested last week that Pitchfork’s deliverance must be admitted for the plain reason that ‘he had served the sentence imposed on him by the court.’ The Parole Board ‘reconsideration mechanism’ was brought in 2019 after campaigning by Carrie Johnson, who was the target of a rapist at 20 years old. It provides people with the right to ask for a judgment to be reviewed if they have arguments to demonstrate that there was a procedural unfair or irrational.A rose in a vase

The decision is provisional for 21 days until the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, approves or appeals against the verdict. A petition launched by Lynda Mann’s family requesting Pitchfork’s release failed was signed by more than 20,000 people online, and 7,000 in a paper version. Although he has no power to do so, Mr Buckland said he saw no reluctance to interfere with the family’s appeal, describing Pitchfork as ‘a psychopath who should be kept in the prison he came from.’ He is revising legislation implicating a ‘basic and branch’ appraisal of the parole scheme to broaden the grounds for challenging a release decision.

Life Sentence

In some situations, judges have to deliver precise types of sentences, for example, where someone is found guilty of murder, they must receive a life sentence. When a life sentence is ruled, judges must decide the minimum term (sometimes called the tariff) an offender is required to stay in detention before being authorised to apply for parole. Nonetheless, if someone is given a life sentence, they are subject to that sentence for the rest of their life, regardless of the length of the minimum term; it means that when wrongdoers are granted parole, but commit a crime, or are just deemed dangerous for the public, without having recommitted any crimes, they can be sent back to prison.

Whole Life Order

In murder cases considered as being serious, a criminal may be sentenced to a life sentence with a ‘whole life order.’ This signifies that their crime was so atrocious that they will never be released. A whole life term means there is no minimum term set by the judge, and the offender is not considered for compassion. 

The Parole Board

The Parole Board is an independent body established in 1968. The sole aim of the Parole Board is public safety and so to gauge whether prisoners can be without danger dropped into society – they assess a significant risk to the public after discharge. The risk assessment is based on the dossier and oral hearing evidence. Pitchfork’s absolution is subject to harsh limitations: living at a nominated address, wearing an electronic tag, limits on contact with children, using technology, and many others. The Chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee observed that under the actual law, Pitchfork’s crimes would get a whole life order, but he said that, in his experience, ‘The Parole Board would not have made this decision lightly!’

So what happens after?

Colin Pitchfork was granted parole by the decision of the parole board on 1 September 2021 but was remanded to prison on 19 November. Without having committed an offence since his release, he however violated the conditions of his licence by approaching young women during walks from his bail hostel. He was also blamed for having a ‘bad attitude’, because ‘he was not as engaging and open as they would want him to be, and probation staff accused him of cheating detector tests by using breathing techniques.’

The case was referred to the Parole Board to determine if he should return to prison. It would be if they had proof. Colin Pitchfork was released despite experts’ concerns about the killer’s ‘ability to manipulate and deceive’ and his inability to show remorse for the killings.

Under the terms of the Parole Board’s review mechanism, introduced in 2019, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland had a right of appeal to request a review if he felt the decision was ‘procedurally unfair’ or ‘irrational’; the appeal was rejected on 13 July 2021. There have been complaints that the Parole Board was not careful enough in authorising Pitchfork’s release. 

What The Story Doesn’t Say?

Who is Colin Pitchfork?

Pitchfork was born and raised in Newbold Vernon and attended schools in Market Bosworth and Desford.

He was convicted of indecent exposure at the age of 17 years old. Indecent exposure is the deliberate public display by a person of any part of their body in an inappropriate manner.

He was referred for therapy to Carlton Hayes Hospital, Narborough, which was Leicestershire’s mental hospital from 1907 to 1995. He never went there; and despite the seriousness of his act for his age, there was no follow-up at the time.

Colin worked as a volunteer for five years at Barnardo’s children’s home where he played with children with special needs, and baked cakes, with the aim of obtaining a gold award from the Duke of Edinburgh. It was there that he met his future wife, Carole, a youth worker.

He married in 1981, at the age of 21, and had two sons.

Later, Colin Pitchfork gained work in a bakery as an apprentice. He came exceptionally skilled as a sculptor of cake decorations and aspired to one day launch his own cake decorating business.

According to his supervisor, he was ‘a good worker and time-keeper, but he was moody … and he couldn’t leave women employees alone. He was still talking to them’.

Colin was actually psychologically ill

A psychiatric report produced for the Court depicted Pitchfork as displaying a psychopathic personality disorder accompanied by severe psycho sexual pathology.  Colin Pitchfork's picture the day of his marriage

Psychopathy, sometimes analysed coincident with sociopathy, is outlined by persistent antisocial behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, uninhibited, and egotistical traits.

The diverse conceptions of psychopathy have been used throughout history, which only partially overlap and can sometimes be contradictory. The causes would be genetic and environmental, the risk factors are family history, poverty, and parental neglect.

Different diagnoses are sociopathy, narcissism, machiavellianism, sadism, and borderline personality disorder. The predictions are poor, it is impossible to know how the disease will progress. 1% of the general population is affected by this disease.

Why was Pitchfork initially let go? 

On 22 April 2016, the Parole Board of England and Wales heard Pitchfork’s case for early parole. The panel sifted through 1,100 pages of information, including victims’ statements, and heard testimony from Pitchfork probation officers, the police, a psychologist and Pitchfork himself, who is now in his 60s.

During his hearing, Pitchfork said that at the time of his offense he thought ‘a lot about sex’, used ‘violence and excessive force, and sex to demonstrate his power and control over women’. And who also struggled to cope with anger, loneliness and longing for ‘revenge’ and his grievance by thinking about women.

Throughout the time of his incarceration, he took several courses to correct his nature. It was reported that ‘his behaviour in detention had been positive and had included considerable efforts to help others’. He continued his studies to the university level and became a specialist in the transcription of printed music into Braille, for the benefit of the blind, reviving a childhood love for music.

The report also states that Pitchfork has undertaken ‘numerous accredited programmes to address criminal behaviour.’ Notably, the Ministry of Justice’s Discredited Sex Offender Treatment (SOTP) which was introduced in prisons in England and Wales in 1991. However, a condemning 2012 report showed that the programme made those who took it more likely to re-offend by normalising their behaviour.

Ten per cent of men who had taken the SOTP programme relapsed, compared to 8 per cent of those who had not undertaken it. The programme was discontinued in 2017.

David Baker, a former police detective who helped capture Pitchfork, said formerly that Pitchfork may have tricked the parole board into pretending it was safe to release him. Baker maintained that Pitchfork was a psychopath and that it would never be safe to free him.

According to his legal team, Pitchfork had changed radically in prison and was no longer a threat. After listening to Pitchfork plead for his freedom and examining his case, the Parole Board had so decided to liberate him.

What took place when Colin was arrested 20 years ago?

Immediately after his arrest in September 1987, Colin promised to tell the police everything, and he said, ‘But I want to do it my way because it’s really the story of my life, not just the story of a month or two.’

Over the course of his questioning, Pitchfork confessed to exposing himself to more than 1,000 women. He said it was a compulsion that started in his early teens.

The detectives were astounded by the cold and calculated way in which he described his crimes, Pitchfork spoke in a monotonous tone and often smiled at the officers, calling them by their first names.

Detailing the moment he decided to strangle Lynda Mann, Pitchfork said: ‘I thought, you can’t just leave her. Because if you leave her, you go to court. After killing her, he returned to his car where his baby was still sleeping, drove home and washed and shaved before picking up his wife from her evening class.

‘He showed no remorse’, said retired detective David Baker. ‘That’s a real sign of a psychopath.’

Pitchfork spotted Dawn Ashworth three years later while shopping for food colouring for a cake he was making. He told police: ‘When I was following Dawn, I had this gut feeling. It was saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no! ‘ But the other side of me was like, ‘Just flash her. You have a footpath. You have all the time in the world. Even if she runs away screaming, no one will ever see you. No one will ever know. Who will know?’

After reading her rights, a detective asked, ‘Why Dawn Ashworth?’ Pitchfork would have shrugged and answered: ‘Opportunity. She was there and I was there’.

He later added, ‘I had to kill her. You can cover your tracks if you kill her. The Crown rejected this, holding the motivation for the strangulations as ‘perverted sadism’.

Colin Pitchfork’s piece of art

Colin made artwork as part of a show for the art charity for offenders, The Koestler Trust, founded by novelist Arthur Koestler, which runs an awards programme for prisoners to encourage their creativity. His piece of art was very popular at the Royal Festival Hall, a striking sculpture depicting an entire choir and orchestra created in meticulous miniature detail by folding, cutting and tearing the score of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. An orchestra made of sheets of sheet music paper

The piece was first exhibited without a signature, but in April 2009 London’s Royal Festival Hall was forced to withdraw it after The Times disclosed it was the work of a sex killer children and apologised for exposing it to the astonishment and fury of groups of victims of crime.

Colin Pitchfork earned around £300 of the sale proceeds of £600, but he also won the right to appeal for early release after serving just 20 years of the minimum 30-year sentence suggested by the Minister of the Interior, Michael Howard, in 1994.

In a message beside the sculpture, Pitchfork wrote: ‘Without this opportunity to show our art, many of us would have no incentive, we would stay locked in ourselves as much as the walls that hold us.’

These words from Colin Pitchfork were interpreted as a way to provoke: ‘as a clever attempt to sway the emotions of the public, to insult the dead victims, who undeniably had neither the ‘opportunity’ nor the ‘inducement’ of which their murderer spoke’. It was also commented that, 20 years earlier, the judge at his trial, Judge Otton, had called him ‘insensitive and cunning’, and that more than 20 years later it was hard not to still agree; that ‘even the title of the sculpture seemed calculated to offend’.

An orchestra made of sheets of sheet music paperBringing Music to life? A title seeking to offend? From my point of view, there was indeed a hidden message, however, it seems clear to me that this message was not addressed at all to his two victims; maybe he was talking to himself. Indeed, Colin apparently dreamed of being recognised as an artist. What did he want to express? Was it in the context of self-therapy, a work he was trying to do for himself, thus delivering his intimate thoughts? Was it related to a rehabilitation project directed by the workers of his prison? Bitterness? Chagrin? Remonstrances?  Regrets?

A former Cabinet minister and ex-prisoner, Jonathan Aitken, who served 18 months for perjury, employed his time behind bars to study New Testament Greek. As stated by him, there was nothing wrong, Mr Pitchfork was rebuilding his life through rehabilitation, including, in his case, artistic endeavour’.

Opinion

It is worth indicating that revocation of conditional release, or poor behaviour controls are some antisocial traits of psychopathy. Psychopathic traits and characteristics of a psychopath

My own feeling is that Colin Pitchfork beyond his illness is a sensible and good person. 

No one seems to care about Colin’s illness. Was he responsible for his crimes? No! Did he deserve the pain he endured and probably still endures today? No

Research on psychopathy proved that its roots are in issues linked to parent-child attachment such as emotional deprivation, parental rejection, and a lack of affection. What is a psychopath?

Through all of his statements, it seems like the innocent little child inside Colin was crying out for help, but no one heard him.

Everything could have been avoided if from the start when Colin was 17, he had received the help he needed.

A hearing in Autumn 2022 by the Parole Board will decide whether Colin Pitchfork should return to prison, be released again, or recommend that he be in an open rather than closed prison.

Colin Pitchfork has a right to justice. He doesn’t merit staying in prison until the end of his life. He is a victim, just like Lynda Mann, Dawn Ashworth, his third victim, and the 1,000 women he confessed to assaulting, controlled by duress.

Colin’s place is not in prison, where the traits of his illness are certainly worsening. He deserves to receive all the help he can get from specialists. 

Have your say and sign the petition below to help Colin!

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