The double child killer Colin Pitchfork can be released from prison subject to conditions, the Parole Board has said.
The decision, 18 months after Pitchfork was recalled to prison for “concerning behaviour”, could be opposed by the justice minister, Alex Chalk.
The board said it was no longer necessary for the protection of the public to keep Pitchfork in prison.
It said: “The prisoner had committed shocking, serious offences, causing immeasurable harm to his victims. However, the Parole Board’s role, as required by law, is to undertake a risk assessment.
“Mr Pitchfork has completed many courses satisfactorily and the evidence before the panel demonstrated that he had learned the lessons that he had been taught and had worked out how to apply them in practice. Accordingly, the panel determined that it was no longer necessary for the protection of the public for Mr Pitchfork to remain confined and thereby directed his release.”
The decision has provoked criticism from the MP in the constituency where the killings occurred and could be opposed by ministers, sources said. Chalk has 21 days to decide whether to ask the Parole Board to reconsider.
Pitchfork was jailed for life in 1988 after raping and strangling Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, both 15, in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.
He was released in September 2021, having been moved to HMP Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire three years previously and had his 30-year minimum jail term cut by two years in 2009.
Pitchfork, 63, was then arrested within two months after being accused of approaching young women in the streets, and he was recalled to prison for breaching his licence conditions.
The board said Pitchfork could be released subject to several conditions. They include to comply with requirements to live at a designated address, to be of good behaviour, surrender his passport, attend supervision appointments and disclose any developing relationships.
He must also submit to enhanced supervision including GPS tagging and a specified curfew, and comply with an unspecified exclusion zone to avoid contact with victims, women and children.
The board said the decision to recall Pitchfork to prison in November 2021 was “flawed” because it was based on allegations that were not proved and were based on incorrect information.
“The panel accepted that when dealing with someone who has committed such appalling crimes as Mr Pitchfork has, that very little leeway can be allowed to him before recall is considered. Even allowing for that consideration, the panel found that the decision to recall Mr Pitchfork was, for the most part, based on unsubstantiated, inaccurate and misleading information,” it said. “The panel was not satisfied that the decision to recall Mr Pitchfork to custody was appropriate.”
His age and behaviour had been taken into account, the board said. “The panel noted that Mr Pitchfork has been in prison for a very long time. His behaviour for almost all of that time has not caused any concern. He has made constructive use of his time and is now 63 years old. In general, age tends to reduce risk.”
Alberto Costa, the MP for South Leicestershire, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the board’s decision and said Pitchfork still presented “a very real danger to the public”.
He tweeted: “Deeply disappointed that the Parole Board have decided to release the convicted child killer Colin Pitchfork. I would like to reassure constituents that I will be writing to the justice secretary to ask that he seek an immediate and urgent review.”
The decision is expected to be used by ministers to escalate plans to take new powers to allow ministers to be able to veto the release of prisoners, a proposal that has been criticised by prison reform charities.
Ministers can at present only ask the Parole Board to reconsider a decision to release an offender but cannot overrule it.
A Ministry of Justice source said: “Pitchfork was recalled to prison less than two years ago for concerning behaviour. That the Parole Board think he’s now safe for release is extremely worrying. This will do nothing for public confidence and will only strengthen calls for reform.”