rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what reasonable grounds there are for the continued imprisonment of Myra Hindley after 35 years.
My Lords, I want to ask the Government whether there are any reasonable grounds for continuing the incarceration of Myra Hindley after 35 years. I do not expect a dramatic answer from the Minister. I am aware that there is much public animosity towards this young woman, stirred up, over many years, by the tabloid press. I shall be content with a guarded answer from the Minister.
A cruel injustice is being done to a young member of our society who, many years ago, sinned terribly. She has repented completely. As someone who has known her for 30 years, I am well aware of that. All I can do tonight is to bring this issue before the public. I am an unrepentant believer in the ultimate sense of justice of our Ministers, Opposition leaders and the general public when they have the facts before them. Tonight I shall attempt to contribute to their knowledge and understanding.
Rather more than 33 years ago, two young people, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, were condemned for horrifying crimes. Those crimes have gone down in history as among the worst and most revolting ever committed. Now, of course, they are both incarcerated.
I have visited Ian Brady at various times over the years. His attitude towards me has varied. At one time we were good friends, but then he said that he suspected that I was a Home Office lackey. I cannot say that he and I are any longer intimate friends. For a number of years he has been in Ashworth hospital, the northern equivalent of Broadmoor to which offenders suffering from mental troubles are sent. Recently he has expressed a desire to die. I do not believe that anyone should allow a person in their charge to die. However, I do not think that he would agree with me on that point. Perhaps that wish indicates his present state of mind.
He is a gifted man. He was illegitimate and never knew his father, but I met his mother, who was a very nice woman. Some years ago he published quotations from some letters that he wrote to me. The late Professor Rowse wrote to me to say, "That man, Brady, must be a remarkable man". Even as a boy--and long before he met Myra--he was a criminal, but he already had a good knowledge of Russian literature. He is a very unusual man and a tragic figure.
It was a part of Myra's destiny to work under him in an office and to fall under his influence. Indeed, she continued to love him for a long time. Until she met him she had been a good Catholic, but in the following years she lost her faith. She recovered it when she went to prison. I met her perhaps two years after she began her sentence. Already she had returned to the Catholic faith, although at that point she was still in love with Ian Brady. Eventually that came to an end.
She was an infatuated accomplice and she herself would be the first to agree that it was right that she was condemned to spend many years in prison as a punishment. Certainly, she will be haunted all her life by the things in which she was involved.
In the intervening years she has obtained an Open University degree with honours and today she is a devoted Catholic. Various priests would testify to that. Noble Lords may not think that my testimony is of any importance, but I should like to point out that she is particularly fond of my wife. It would be safe to say that she is fonder of my wife than she is of me, but that is understandable.
As I have said, she is a devoted Catholic, but she remains incarcerated. Her present priest has given me permission to quote him as saying that she is a "truly spiritual woman". However, that is not the view taken by the nation, especially when it is instructed by the Sun newspaper, which has portrayed her as a monster. Recently that newspaper suggested that perhaps the best thing would be for her to come out of prison, whereupon she would be lynched--or words to that effect. That is the situation with which we are confronted.
Recently, Myra Hindley's case was brought before the Law Lords. After a three-day hearing in this place, they rejected the claim that what the Home Secretary had done was unlawful. But they left a loophole. The Home Secretary has stated that it would be possible to modify the earlier decision that in her case the sentence of life must mean life and that she must die in prison in the light of her exceptional progress. No one who has visited as many prisoners as I have could deny that Myra Hindley has made exceptional progress. If she has not done so, then no one has done so. The case has been returned to the Home Secretary. For that reason the Home Secretary may be rather guarded in his reply.
The case is also being taken to the European Court. Again, the issues will be strongly argued when it is heard. It is not for me to offer an opinion on the legal aspects of the matter, but on the face of it I agree entirely with the conclusion submitted by her counsel that the sentence of "the whole of her life" is contrary to all the legislation covering human rights. It represents a cruel and unusual punishment.
Perhaps we should examine the record of the state over recent years as regards the case of Myra Hindley. Some years after she was sent to prison, the Lord Chief Justice of the day twice suggested that a tariff of 25 years should be fixed for her. However, a new Home Secretary came along and fixed her sentence at 30 years. Later, a sentence of "all life" was imposed. What was happening? No one could pretend that the crimes has got any worse and she herself was making progress. Nevertheless, the sentence was increased. In other words, the rules of the game were altered halfway through the game. In my eyes, that is a disgrace to British justice.
What would I recommend for the future? Of course I hope for a decision from the Home Secretary and/or the European Court. What is the answer for a case of this kind? I agree with the opinion of many distinguished lawyers that the decision in a case such as this should not be left to a Home Secretary. We can all sympathise with the position of the current Home Secretary and not for a moment do I suggest that I could do any better.
On a previous occasion I may have mentioned that when I was chairman of the Labour Party penal affairs group just prior to the election of the Wilson government--whereupon I became the Leader of the House here--my good friend, the famous writer Evelyn Waugh, wrote to me to say that it was a good thing I was not Home Secretary otherwise we would all be murdered in our beds. He was entitled to his point of view.
When all is said and done, any Home Secretary must shoulder a terrible and difficult responsibility. On the one hand--I am sure that it is particularly the case for our present Home Secretary, who is a good Christian man--he feels a deep and fundamental sense of duty to maintain the confidence of the public. It would be no good having a Home Secretary who lost that public confidence, as one or two of us might have done had we served in that office. Such a Home Secretary would not be equal to the job. A Home Secretary must achieve a balance between maintaining the confidence of the public and offering justice to the individual. That will never be easy.
Before I sit down, perhaps I could make a suggestion. I believe that the Parole Board, whether as presently constituted or in a somewhat modified form, would represent the fairest kind of tribunal. Already that board takes decisions in cases of discretionary life sentences; only mandatory sentences are left to the Home Secretary. I suggest that this case be referred back to the Parole Board for further consideration.
I should mention to noble Lords that I am not addressing only the vast public gathered here tonight; principally I am speaking for the record. Some years ago the Parole Board did consider the case of Myra Hindley. It recommended that she should be sent to an open prison in preparation, no doubt, for her release. But that was turned down and I am saying that the matter could go back to the Parole Board. That is my best suggestion.
I would not be too dogmatic as to whether or not that is the right procedure. But, looking at the issue more broadly, I am aware that the House, the Minister and, above all, the Home Secretary are faced with a test of courage. Over the years, several people have said to me, in one way or another, "Of course I agree with you, my dear chap. She has been treated disgracefully. She ought to have come out long ago but no one has the guts to let her out". I do not believe that our Home Secretary is lacking in guts. I ask the Minister to convey to him what we have said tonight, and ask him to consider it all carefully.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has immense experience in this case, and, whatever one's views on the course to be followed, he has earned great respect on all sides and in all parts of the country for the dedication with which he has pursued this case. He is, of course, the only participant in this debate tonight who has experience of the subject.
That having been said, our view from these Benches is that life really does mean life. The decision originally taken in 1994 by my right honourable friend Mr Michael Howard that Myra Hindley should serve a life tariff was reached after the most careful scrutiny of the case. That decision was confirmed by the present Home Secretary in 1997.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but otherwise I should have to do it later. Surely the noble Viscount must agree that that was increasing the penalty beyond what was expected earlier, when the crime had not got any worse.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that intervention, but perhaps I can just go on to this point. The difference between any debates that we have had on this subject and this one is that we have had a chance to have the debate since the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House found that the imposition of a life tariff was entirely consistent with the law. If I may say to the noble Earl, the Home Secretary's decision--the noble Earl understandably questions the competence of politicians to make these decisions--was unequivocally fortified by the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, the constitution of this country leaves the law to the lawyers but the justice has to be interpreted on this occasion by the Home Secretary.
In addition to the unanimous findings of that committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyne, who made the judgment which most of the other Lords of Appeal followed, referred to the submission by Hindley's counsel that the whole life tariff was disproportionate. I am tempted to quote in toto from his findings on that point: however, I shall repeat just two sentences.
"Even in the sordid history of crimes against children the murders committed by Hindley, jointly with Ian Brady, were uniquely evil ... The pitiless and depraved ordeal of the victims, and the torment of their families, place these crimes in terms of comparative wickedness in an exceptional category. If it be right, as I have held it to be that life long incarceration for the purposes of punishment is competent where the crime or crimes are sufficiently heinous, it is difficult to argue that the case is not in this category".
The noble Earl invites us to forgive. However, there is a difference between personal forgiveness and forgiveness by the state. There will, I am sure, be many individuals who take the view that, with 35 years of incarceration, Hindley has paid for her crimes and shown true repentance. But every test of opinion shows that those people are in a substantial minority. That may be so, but I suggest that the state does not have that option. In any consideration of what remission the state will grant an offender, regard must surely be had to the extent of the crime. There can surely be no question that Hindley's deeds plumbed a depth of cruelty and depravity which to the vast majority of people in this country was quite unimaginable.
With great sadness I have to say to your Lordships that we have crossed the borderline beyond which any idea of tempering retribution does not fall to be considered. There is the element of retribution and also that of deterrence. The fact that in the intervening period there has mercifully been nothing like it in its dreadfulness, and an absence of the copycat which so often is a feature of these crimes, in our view justifies this life sentence. But here again we feel that the exemplary element of the sentence must continue to run. So we are in accord with the Home Secretary's decision that life must mean life. Though I am sure the noble Earl is aware--indeed, he has referred to this--that there are provisions in these cases for periodic review by the Home Secretary, he should not attach any hope to a decision in Hindley's favour.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's intervention again. Mine is a personal view, but it is also the view of my party. There have been two totally ad idem decisions by successive Home Secretaries, and I leave that matter there.
One further point to which the noble Earl has not referred relates to the families of the murdered children. There are alive at least one parent of a child to whose murder Hindley has either confessed or of which she has been convicted, whose body has never been found. In one case a brother had to visit Hindley in prison to see whether any clues could be found, but to no avail. I ask your Lordships whether society can live with having in the same community someone responsible for that murder.
We have to consider not only the parents of those whose bodies have never been found, but also the brothers, sisters and wider families of the other victims who have suffered and continue to suffer. I fear that Hindley has not fully paid and will never fully pay for that suffering.
However, once again I pay tribute to the noble Earl for all the effort he undoubtedly put into this cause. We from these Benches cannot agree to his plea for her release. The legality of the Home Secretary's decision on a life tariff has been unanimously endorsed by the Court of Appeal of your Lordships' House and we agree with the judgment of a life tariff, endorsing as it did that of my right honourable friend Mr Michael Howard, now made again by the right honourable Mr Jack Straw. The degree of evil inherent in this crime leaves him, in our view, with no alternative.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may put a question to the noble Viscount before he sits down. It is true that Myra Hindley was guilty of the most appalling, dreadful crimes, but the trial judge was well aware of the gravity and depravity of the crimes when he sentenced her and imposed a tariff of 25 years, which later was raised to 30, if I heard the noble Earl correctly. Is it not the case that what the noble Viscount's party seems to be suggesting is that that tariff be increased from 30 to, let us say, 65 should Myra Hindley live to the age of 85, which is equivalent to the average female life expectancy at the moment?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford has a long and honourable record in supporting and visiting prisoners. I am sure that we all acknowledge his real concern for their welfare. However, that does not always mean that we have to agree with everything that he says and does in this field. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, observed, we ought also to acknowledge that my noble friend has campaigned vigorously for Myra Hindley's release over many years.
Before I refer to the offences for which Myra Hindley was convicted, and the reasons for her continued imprisonment, I wish to refer briefly to the background to the mandatory life sentence. Parliament decided in 1965 when capital punishment for murder was effectively abolished that there should be a mandatory sentence for murder of life imprisonment. But despite many opportunities for the law to be changed since then, Parliament has continued to maintain the position that the mandatory life sentence is the appropriate penalty for the most heinous and appalling crime of murder.
The Government have no intention of bringing forward proposals to change the mandatory sentence for murder. Nor does my right honourable friend the Home Secretary intend to give up the responsibility entrusted to him by Parliament for deciding if and when the case of a mandatory life sentence prisoner should be referred to the Parole Board. He believes that his exercise of that quasi-judicial function, for which he is answerable both to the courts and to Parliament, generally continues to carry the confidence of the public.
It would not be an appropriate function for the Parole Board to decide on how long a person should serve for the purpose of punishment. The Parole Board directs release in the case of discretionary life sentence cases, and advises on release in mandatory life sentence cases, only after the tariff period set by the courts or the Secretary of State has expired.
It has long been recognised by successive Home Secretaries that there are some murders so terrible that the perpetrators should be required to serve the whole of their life sentences in custody. For example, in December 1966, during the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, then Home Secretary, acknowledged that there would be a,
"few killers for whom a life sentence must mean what it says"-- life must mean life. All the Lord Chief Justices from Lord Widgery onwards have accepted that there are circumstances in which the life sentence should mean imprisonment for life as punishment.
In practice, only a small number of whole life tariffs have been set. There are at present just 23 people, including Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, in custody with whole life tariffs. Like all tariffs, these tariffs have been set to reflect what is regarded as the necessary period to be served for the purposes of retribution and deterrence. They do not relate to present or future risk. That issue becomes relevant only when the tariff period has expired. Nor does the tariff set initially take into account exceptional circumstances, including exceptional progress in prison. That, too, is a separate issue which may result in a reduction of tariff. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has undertaken to consider representations on this basis from Myra Hindley, and nothing I have to say this evening should be taken as prejudicing his consideration of those representations.
I turn now to the circumstances of the particular case raised by my noble friend Lord Longford. Although I do not propose to go into unnecessary details about the offences of which Myra Hindley was convicted or those to which she subsequently confessed, I believe it only right that I should briefly set out the facts. Myra Hindley was convicted at Chester Assizes on 6th May 1966 of the murders of Lesley Ann Downey, aged 10, and Edward Evans, aged 17. At the same time, she was convicted of being an accessory after the fact to the murder of John Kilbride, age 12.
John Kilbride had disappeared from the streets on 23rd November 1963, after leaving home to go to the cinema. His body was found in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor on 21st October 1965. His body was clothed but the trousers and underpants that he had been wearing were pulled down to mid-thigh and the underpants appeared to be knotted at the back.
Lesley Ann Downey disappeared on Boxing Day 1964, after going to a fairground with a friend. On 15th October 1965, eight days after the arrest of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the police traced two suitcases in the left luggage office at Manchester Central station. They contained pornographic books and books on torture, diaries belonging to the couple, photographs and negatives and two recording tapes. The photographs included some of Lesley Ann Downey naked, except for shoes and socks, and in obscene poses. A scarf was tied around her mouth. One of the tapes recorded her crying, asking not to be undressed and pleading simply to be allowed to go home to her mother. Her naked body was found on 16th October 1965 in a shallow peat grave on Saddleworth Moor. Her clothing, shoes and a string of beads were buried beside her.
Edward Evans was last seen alive by his family when he left home at about 6.30 p.m. on 6th October 1965 to go to a football match. Myra Hindley's brother-in-law, David Smith, telephoned the police on 7th October to say that he had witnessed a murder in the house where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were living. The police discovered Edward Evans' body later that day, trussed up in a polythene bag in a bedroom of the house. Lying near the body was another polythene bag containing a blood-stained axe.
The trial judge, Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson, made no recommendation at the time, or at any subsequent time, as to how long should be served as a minimum for the offences of murder for which Ian Brady and Myra Hindley had been convicted. In his letter to the Home Secretary, two days after the end of the trial, he wrote:
"I did not make a recommendation in passing sentence because the only possible one would have been at that stage that neither of them should ever be set free again".
That was written in relation to the two murders of which Myra Hindley had been convicted and the three of which Ian Brady had been convicted.
At trial, and for 20 years afterwards, Myra Hindley denied that she had taken any part in these three murders. She admitted only to what could not be denied and what she described as "two anti-social acts"--first, not reporting Edward Evans' death to the police and, secondly, assisting in taking nude pictures of Lesley Ann Downey. She denied all previous knowledge of John Kilbride or any previous knowledge that Lesley Ann Downey had been murdered. She accused her brother-in-law of having brought Lesley Ann Downey to the house to have the nude pictures taken and having taken her away afterwards unharmed.
In 1985, a journalist reported that Ian Brady had confessed to other murders and the Greater Manchester Police eventually decided to re-open the investigation into the disappearance of Keith Bennett and Pauline Reade. Preparations were made for a full-scale search of the moors to attempt to discover their bodies, concentrating on areas narrowed down from photographs. Just before the searches started, the senior police officer in charge of the investigation visited Myra Hindley at Cookham Wood Prison and told her that he had good scientific reasons for believing that bodies buried there 20 or more years before could still be intact. He made clear that whether or not she agreed to help, he might well find them. After some thought, Myra Hindley agreed to look at photographs and maps of the moors to point out places that had been of particular interest to Ian Brady. She agreed, as did Ian Brady, to help the police in their searches of the moors.
After her first visit to the moors on 16th December 1986, the search was called off for the winter. Before the search resumed in March 1987, Myra Hindley had given her detailed account to the police of her part in the killing of five young people--Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Keith Bennett, Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans. After her second visit to the moors in March, the intensive police search resumed. But it was not until 1st July 1987 that the remains of Pauline Reade were discovered. After 24 years of living through an agony of unknowing and grief about Pauline's disappearance, her family were at last able to have the consolation, such as it could be in those circumstances, of giving her a proper burial. No such consolation has been granted to the family of Keith Bennett, whose body has never been found.
Although the evidence to support further prosecutions was strong it was decided, after careful consideration at the time, that it would not be in the public interest to pursue further charges.
Myra Hindley was convicted of two murders in 1966, the murders of Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans. In relation to those two murder convictions the trial judge reported, as I have already said, that the only possible recommendation he could have made at the time was that neither she nor Ian Brady should ever be set free again. It was against this background that Lord Lane, when asked for his views on an appropriate punitive period, suggested that 25 years would be a minimum. That was his opinion. He was not empowered to set a tariff and the tariff was never set at 25 years. Ministers decided for the first time in 1985 that provisional tariffs should be set at 30 years for Myra Hindley and 40 years for Ian Brady. These provisional tariffs were not disclosed to them.
When the tariffs came to be reconsidered in 1990 by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the then Home Secretary, he had much fuller information about the offences of which Myra Hindley had been convicted and the context in which those murders had been carried out. I must emphasise that tariff is set on the basis of murder convictions. However, it is quite proper that further information about the circumstances and context of offences, which comes to light after conviction, can be taken into account in deciding the level at which the tariff should be set.
In 1990 it had become clear beyond doubt that the two appalling murders of which Myra Hindley had been convicted were the last two of five separate murders, carefully pre-planned for sexual and sadistic purposes, which had been committed over a period of two and a quarter years, the last of which was committed when Myra Hindley was 23 years old. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, decided, in consideration of those facts, that the appropriate tariff for the murders of which she had been convicted was whole life. The charge is sometimes made that that decision was taken for the purpose of political gain. I believe that is unfair. Certainly there was no immediate political advantage to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the then Home Secretary. Tariffs were not then publicly disclosable, nor were they expected to become so. Neither Myra Hindley, nor anyone else, was told what her tariff was.
As a result of a decision of your Lordships' House in 1993 in the case of Doody and others, the gist of judicial recommendations and tariffs set were required to be disclosed. Disclosure was made to Myra Hindley in December 1994 and she was invited to make representations before her tariff was reconsidered. Following reconsideration of all of the facts and the detailed and lengthy representations made on her behalf, the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, decided that the tariffs for both Myra Hindley and Ian Brady should be set at whole life. His written reasons given to Myra Hindley for the decision included the following words:
"The Secretary of State attached weight to the premeditated nature of the two separate murders of two wholly innocent victims, and the pitiless part which you played in them.
In particular, the Secretary of State attaches weight to the circumstances of the murder of Lesley Ann Downey. He has had regard to the fact that you drove Ian Brady to the fairground on Boxing Day 1964 to look together for a victim, in the knowledge, on your own admission, that three young people had previously been abducted, put to death, and buried on the moors. Having seen the 10 year old girl on her own, you watched and targeted her before enticing her to go with you to your house, where preparations had been made to take indecent photographs. On arrival, she was forcibly gagged with your active participation, put in terror of what would happen to her, made to undress and photographed in obscene poses. She was then murdered. You drove the vehicle, which took her body to the moors where she was buried.
About 9 months later, you drove Ian Brady into Manchester, where a young stranger of 17, Edward Evans, was lured to your car and driven by you, back to your house, where he was savagely murdered by being struck on the head with 14 blows with an axe and strangled with a ligature".
In November 1997 solicitors acting for Myra Hindley asked my right honourable friend the Home Secretary whether he proposed to stand by her whole life tariff. In a Written Answer in another place on 1st December 1997 he stated that he had looked at the papers considered by his predecessor, which included descriptions of the crimes for which she had been convicted, the judicial comments made in her case, and the representations, and saw no reason to depart from that decision. He added that he would consider further representations made on the subject of whether the whole life tariff should be reduced by reasons of exceptional progress by her.
Your Lordships will know that Myra Hindley has challenged her tariff through the courts by way of judicial review. Following the hearing of the case in December 1997, the Divisional Court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, unanimously upheld the lawfulness of whole life tariffs in principle and the decision to set a whole life tariff in this case. The Court of Appeal, presided over by the Master of the Rolls, unanimously dismissed her appeal against that decision on 5th November 1998, but granted her leave to appeal to your Lordships' House. The Appellate Committee, which heard her further appeal, gave its decision on 30th March. In a unanimous judgment drafted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, the appeal was dismissed.
At the end of his speech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn--some of this text has already been mentioned but I repeat it at length--said about Myra Hindley's offences,
"The Secretary of State was therefore entitled to take into account that the two murders of which she had been convicted in 1965 were the culmination of a series of five murders committed by her and Brady. They abducted, terrified, tortured and killed their victims before burying their bodies on Saddleworth Moor. Hindley was a woman of competent understanding. The argument that she was not the 'actual killer' must be put in perspective. Her role in the murders was pivotal. Without her active participation, the five children would probably still be alive today. The pitiless and depraved ordeal of the victims and the torment of their families, place these crimes in terms of comparative wickedness in an exceptional category. If it be right, as I have held it to be, that lifelong incarceration for the purposes of punishment is competent where the crime or crimes are sufficiently heinous, it is difficult to argue that this case is not in that category. In my view, the decision of the Secretary of State to maintain a whole life tariff in the case of Hindley, is lawful".
I have set out our reasoning at length. I have also briefly gone through the reasonable grounds that successive Home Secretaries have given in setting a whole life tariff. We see no need to depart from those grounds now or in the future.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I assure him that, speaking on behalf of all who are interested in the good treatment of prisoners, his reply--I do not blame him for it; it comes from elsewhere--was one of horror.