Colin Pitchfork and the Complexity of Parole

It has been reported that an application for reconsideration of a Parole Board decision not to release Colin Pitchfork has been successful. This does not mean that Pitchfork will automatically be released from custody. Rather, it means that his case will be considered again by a new panel. This blog post details the chronology of the case and links to a Sentencing Academy paper which analyses the new application for reconsideration process relied upon in turn by the Justice Secretary and by Pitchfork.

Colin Pitchfork was imprisoned for life in 1988 for the murders of two 15-year-old girls, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth. He also received concurrent determinate custodial sentences for two counts of rape, two counts of indecent assault and one count of perverting the course of justice. Under current law, someone convicted of murdering two children would receive a whole life order, meaning that they would never become eligible for parole. Pitchfork, sentenced before the law came into effect, received a minimum term of 30 years which was reduced in 2009 to 28 years for ‘exceptional progress’.

Pitchfork was released on licence in 2021 but recalled two months later. The recall was held to be inappropriate by the Parole Board – Pitchfork had not gone anywhere that had not been permitted and a polygraph test requirement had been unlawful. Parole was granted again in 2023. The Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, submitted an application for reconsideration. It was held that the decision to release Pitchfork was irrational. The judge said that, whilst the panel had correctly reviewed the appropriateness of the recall and found it was not justified, the panel had to consider whether Pitchfork’s risk could be safely managed in the community. Noting this was ‘complex and challenging’, the judge concluded that the panel had not placed sufficient weight on a number of factors in the evidence which combined to make the decision irrational. A subsequent panel denied release.

In December 2023, Pitchfork submitted an application for reconsideration of this decision. He argued that the decision was irrational as the panel had failed to take account of his prison offender manager’s recommendation that his risk could be safely managed in the community. His application has been successful. It was held that there was a duty to take account of the views of the prison offender manager and adequate reasons should be provided if a decision was taken by a panel to depart from the recommendation. Pitchfork remains in custody and will face a new hearing with a different panel.

The chronology of the case documents the complexity of the parole process and the impact of recent legislative change. A Sentencing Academy paper, published last year, provides detailed analysis of how the law has evolved. Most notably, the Pitchfork case illustrates how both the Justice Secretary and a prisoner can submit an application for reconsideration to challenge parole decisions.