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‘Life should mean life’: Man who raped and killed two girls freed after 33 years

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A man who raped and murdered two children has been released from prison after 33 years – with the mother of one of the victims saying “life should have meant life”.

Colin Pitchfork was given a life sentence in 1988 with a minimum of 30 years after strangling two 15-year-olds, Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986 respectively.

At the time he committed his first crime, Pitchfork was a 22-year-old, married father of two. He is now in his early 60s.

Dawn Ashworth and Lynda Mann
Image: Dawn Ashworth (left) and Lynda Mann were killed when they were 15

Pitchfork pleaded guilty to two murders, two rapes, two indecent assaults and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and became the first person in the UK to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.

Reacting to his release, Dawn Ashworth’s mother, Barbara Ashworth, said “life should have meant life”.

“Well it was on the books that he was going to be released, but I don’t think he should be breathing the same air as us”, she said.

“It goes without saying that life should have meant life in his case, because he said he was guilty of the offences, the murders of both the girls… and he did a lot more besides.”

More on Leicestershire

Asked if she was surprised Pitchfork had become eligible for release, Ms Ashworth told PA: “Yes, I think so. They did say that if it had been done today he wouldn’t have been let out.

“But that doesn’t excuse anything. I don’t have my daughter back or any of the hopes and dreams that she had in her life.

“She was my only daughter and you live your life through them and their future – but that was taken away.”

Analysis by Martin Brunt, crime correspondent

In 1988, baker Colin Pitchfork became the first murderer convicted with the use of DNA evidence, a technique developed only three years earlier by scientists working at a university seven miles from his Leicestershire home.

In a massive scientific breakthrough, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys and two colleagues had demonstrated it was possible to extract a DNA profile from old crime scene stains.

But Pitchfork nearly slipped through the net, because when police did the first targeted mass screening of 5,000 local young men – asking for voluntary samples of blood or saliva – he got a friend to pose as him and was ruled out.

When the friend was later overheard bragging of the subterfuge, police arrested Pitchfork and took a sample from him that matched the double killer they were hunting.

Thousands of criminals since have been convicted around the world with the help of DNA evidence.

DNA has also been used to crack old cases that were once thought “unsolvable” and settle paternity and immigration disputes.

Some have had convictions overturned with the same techniques. Many suspects have been ruled out of investigations.

In June, the Parole Board ruled Pitchfork had made progress and was “suitable for release”.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asked the board for a “reconsideration” of the decision – which he is permitted to do within 21 days – but the appeal was refused.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our heartfelt sympathies remain with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth following the independent Parole Board’s decision to release Colin Pitchfork.

“Public safety is our top priority, which is why he is subject to some of the strictest licence conditions ever set and will remain under supervision for the rest of his life.

“If he breaches these conditions, he faces an immediate return to prison.”

A court artist's impression of Colin Pitchfork, 48, appealing the length of his sentence at the Court of Appeal in London.
Image: A court artist’s impression of Colin Pitchfork appealing the length of his sentence at the Court of Appeal in London

Pitchfork was previously denied freedom in 2016 and 2018, and was then moved to an undisclosed open prison.

Following his release, he will have to meet all standard licence conditions, face regular meetings with his probation officer and have extensive additional conditions placed on him.

Some of the requirements include protecting the victims’ families from unwanted contact with him, regular lie detector examinations, and he will also have to wear an electronic tag.

Pitchfork will also be placed on the sex offenders’ register, live at a designated address, and will have to disclose what vehicles he uses and who he speaks to, while facing particular limits on contact with children.

A curfew, restrictions on technology use and limitations on where he can go will be applied as well.

The government plans to overhaul the parole system, with the findings of a review expected later this year.

It has also sought to change the law so child killers face life behind bars without parole.