Life can’t mean life, European judges say

Jeremy Bamber at the funeral of three members of his family. Picture: PA
Jeremy Bamber at the funeral of three members of his family. Picture: PA
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SOME of the UK’s most reviled criminals have been given hope of eventual release following a human rights ruling which has infuriated MPs, including the Prime Minister.

Life can never mean life, even for the most dangerous killers, European judges have ruled. Locking them up, without any prospect of freedom, is a breach of their human rights.

It does not mean the likes of Ian Brady, Dale Cregan, Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield, and the “Black Panther” Donald Neilson, who are among 49 prisoners given whole life terms, are guaranteed release.

It would be up to parole boards to decide whether they still pose a threat to the public, after serving long terms.

However, Downing Street said that David Cameron was “very, very disappointed” by the ruling. “He profoundly disagrees with the court’s ruling. He is a strong supporter of whole life tariffs,” his spokesman said.

The ruling, by the European Court of Human Rights, found that murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore’s whole life sentences amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Whole-lifers should be entitled to a review of their sentence 25 years into their term at the very latest, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based court said. No whole life terms have been given in Scotland, which means the ruling is unlikely to have any significant impact north of the Border.

However, it does affect 49 prisoners in England and Wales, including Rose West, Steve Wright and Mark Bridger.

The ruling by 17 judges from across Europe sparked further outrage among critics of the court – despite reassurances that the decision did not amount to grounds for imminent release.

Douglas Carswell, a Tory MP who campaigns for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, said: “A case like this illustrates there is something profoundly rotten about the way this country is run and we can only make it right by taking power away from these so-called judges.”

He added: “I’m strongly against capital punishment. The quid pro quo is the court must have the power to tell a person they will spend the rest of their natural lives in custody. For judges to strike that down, it’s not just deeply anti-democratic it raises profound questions about the respect people can have for the criminal justice system.”

The European court found that for a life sentence to remain compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review. But, the panel of 17 judges added: “In finding a violation in this case, however, the court did not intend to give the applicants any prospect of imminent release.”

The appeal was brought by Vinter, who stabbed his wife in February 2008, and means the cases of Bamber, who killed his parents, sister and her two young children in August 1985, and Peter Moore, who killed four gay men for his sexual gratification in 1995, will also be considered.

In their ruling, the judges said it was up to the national authorities to decide when such a review should take place, however, existing legal comparisons gave support to guaranteeing a review no later than 25 years after the imposition of a life sentence.

Under current UK law, whole-life tariff prisoners will almost certainly never be released from prison as their offences are deemed to be so serious.

They can be freed only by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds. He said: “The British people will find this ruling intensely frustrating and hard to understand.

“What the court is saying is that a judge can no longer tell the most appalling criminals that they will never be released.

“I think the people who wrote the original Human Rights Convention would be turning in their graves at this ruling. I profoundly disagree with the court and this simply reinforces my determination to curtail the role of the Court of Human Rights in the UK.”

The European judges added whether Bamber, Vinter and Moore should be released would depend on whether there were still legitimate grounds for their continued detention and whether they should continue to be detained on grounds of dangerousness.

Up until 2003, there was a right to review for all whole-life orders in the UK but this was removed in a change of legislation.

Bamber’s lawyer, Simon McKay said: “A civilised society is defined by how it treats those who act outside its laws and that the UK will now be obligated to review whole life tariffs is a progressive and humane development.”

Vinter was released from prison after serving nine years for murder – but just three years later he stabbed his wife and strangled her, and was given a whole-life order.

His lawyer Simon Creighton said the ruling could not be used as a “get out of jail free” excuse for life-term prisoners.

He said: “It’s very important that the court have recognised that no sentence should be once and for all and there should always be some right to look at some sentences again. They have not said that anyone must be released, what they have said is that it must be reviewed.”

Analysis: ‘Ruling a long time coming but it is right’

I THINK this has been coming for some time. We have had previous decisions on no extraditions to the United States, where people can be kept on death row for years, because it was a breach of Article 3.

This latest ruling is a welcome next step and is clearly right.

It does not say that people have to be released from jail, but just that there should always be the possibility of a review.

Any question of release would depend on the outcome of that review.

The European Court in Strasbourg has been good at telling us not to have a one-size- fits-all policy.

This is because a blanket policy is unlikely to deliver justice in all cases.

There has also been research that says that after 19 to 20 years, that people have become so degraded that they are not able to cope with release – they cannot retake their position in society as normal human beings.

However, the parole system is a good and civilised way of making sure that some life prisoners can get out, if that is the right outcome.

These decisions are not taken lightly, an awful lot of testing goes on.

Prisoners are tested by being given more freedom and responsibility in jail, and then gradually are released or allowed to go home for short periods, to see how they cope. It’s not a hit and hope policy.

Of course there is always a risk and you can never rule out the possibility that someone might reoffend.

However, a relatively small number of life prisoners go on to commit new murders when released, so the risk to the public is probably not significant.

Most do not reoffend at all, partly because they have been locked up for so long and it has been a long rehabilitation process for them.

Also, they have generally become older, calmer and more mature.

At the same time the parole board has become more risk averse and is not sending people back out without significant risk assessments, including cognitive skills, anger management – a whole range of things.

However, it is important to note that because of overcrowding in prisons there is sometimes a limited amount of attention that can be paid to individual prisoners, and this has a negative effect on their rehabilitation.

• John Scott QC is a leading human rights lawyer.

‘I’m still serving a sentence for a crime I did not commit’

JEREMY BAMBER, now 52, was called “evil beyond belief” when he was found guilty of shooting his adoptive parents Nevill and June and shooting his sister Sheila and her twin six-year-old sons Nicholas and Daniel at the family farm.

Bamber has consistently maintained his innocence, taking his case twice to the Court of Appeal and saying his sister, a model known as Bambi, who suffered from schizophrenia, was the real killer. At his trial in 1986 Bamber was convicted by a majority verdict. Although initial reports suggested Sheila Caffell was the killer the court decided Bamber had murdered all five family members because he stood to inherit.

In 1994 the Home Secretary said he should never be released.

Bamber has mounted several appeals against his conviction -– as well as trying to argue his whole life sentence is inhumane. The Court of Appeal upheld his conviction in 2001 and again in 2002.In 2010 new evidence came to light to suggest that Bamber’s father had called the police on the night of the murder saying his daughter had gone “beserk” and stolen one of his guns.

In a statement on his blog yesterday he wrote: “I am the only person in the UK who was [retrospectively] given a life tariff on a majority verdict that maintains innocence. The verdict today seems in so many ways to be hollow, as I am still serving a prison sentence for a crime I did not commit.”

Murderer who stabbed killer in both eyes

THE Recorder at Douglas Vinter’s second trial for murder told him he fell into a small category of people who should be deprived permanently of their liberty.

Vinter, right, was jailed in 1995 for stabbing a co-worker to death in a railway workers’ cabin.

The family of the murdered man Carl Edon warned that 6ft 7in bodybuilder Vinter was still a danger to the public but in 2005 he was released. Shortly afterwards he abducted and killed his estranged wife Anne White, in a killing which closely resembled the first.

Vinter, who had been using anabolic steroids, drinking and taking cocaine, told police: “I’ve got my reasons why I did it.”

Last July, Vinter stabbed Roy Whiting, the killer of schoolgirl Sarah Payne, in both eyes with a sharpened toilet brush handle at Wakefield Prison. Newcastle Crown Court heard he had admitted it saying: “I’m a lifer, I’m doing natural life. I will never get out. I have nothing to lose.”

‘The man in black’ who stabbed and mutilated victims for fun

Homosexual serial killer Peter Moore, above, killed four men in 1995. The cinema manager who stabbed and mutilated his victims “for fun” was called “the man in black.”

Moore ran a theatre and cinema in north Wales and was fixated with the Friday the 13th movies. His first victim was Henry Roberts, stabbed to death at his home in Anglesey. His next victim Edward Carthy was stabbed and buried in a forest after meeting Moore in a gay bar. Next victim Keith Randles was dragged from his caravan at road works on the A5. Randles apparently asked why Moore was attacking him and he replied “for fun.”

His final victim was a 40-year old father of two, who was stabbed at a beach near Abergele in north Wales.

At his trial it was claimed Moore had carried out a 20-year reign of terror during which he had attacked more than 50 men. Moore claimed the murders were carried out by a fictitious homoxexual lover named Jason.

Moore, who was sentenced to four life sentences in November 1996. The Home Secretary recommended he never be released. Moore was reported to have become a close friend of serial killer Harold Shipman during his time in prison.