Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, is to challenge the parole board’s decision to release child killer Colin Pitchfork.

On Monday, Mr Buckland will ask the board to reconsider its decision to release Pitchfork, 61, after 33 years behind bars for raping and murdering two 15-year-old girls in the 1980s. 

Pitchfork raped and strangled Lynda Mann in November 1983 and Dawn Ashworth in July 1986. He remained free until 1987 when he became the first killer in Britain to be convicted on the strength of DNA evidence.

He was jailed for life with a minimum of 30 years in 1988, reduced on appeal to 28 years. During sentencing, the Lord Chief Justice said Pitchfork should not be released "from the point of view of the safety of the public". 

Mr Buckland has intervened after receiving legal advice that the board’s decision could be deemed "irrational".

Colin Pitchfork was jailed for life in 1988

Credit: Neville Chadwick Photography

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) lawyers will argue that the decision makes no sense based on the evidence of risk that was considered and that no other rational panel could come to the same conclusion. It is a similar legal test used in judicial reviews in high courts.

Mr Buckland has decided to cite "irrational grounds" as there was no evidence of the decision being "procedurally unfair" – the only other basis on which he could challenge the decision.

The Justice Secretary got powers to challenge decisions after the controversy over the board’s proposed release of the black cab rapist John Worboys. Previously, they could only be appealed through a judicial review.

Now victims can ask the Justice Secretary to intervene while the MoJ reviews parole decisions to determine whether it should independently challenge any. There have been 32 interventions by the Justice Secretary since the challenge mechanism was set up two years ago, of which only one has been successful.   

Pitchfork would have received a whole life term – meaning he would never be released – under Government plans to introduce such sentences for child killers.

Dawn’s mother, Barbara Ashworth, 75, said she "absolutely" supported Mr Buckland’s intervention in the Pitchfork case, calling the killer a "psychopath who should be kept in prison where he belongs".

She suffered a stroke on Jan 6, weeks before finding out that Pitchfork’s parole hearing was coming up, and added: "I don’t know if it was the stress of it. My world has been shattered by this man. He can’t hurt me any more than he has already by killing my daughter, but there will be other 15-year-old girls in the streets. If he was released, he could search for any victim he wanted to." 

A wider "root and branch" review of the parole board will see greater public accountability through opening its hearings to the public and press while the grounds to appeal its decisions could be widened.