Robert Buckland, the UK justice secretary, is to ask the Parole Board to reconsider its decision to approve the release of the child killer and rapist Colin Pitchfork.
The double murderer was jailed in 1988 after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.
Pitchfork, then in his 20s, became the first man to be convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence, and was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 30 years.
In early June the Parole Board ruled that Pitchfork could be released on licence, saying his behaviour in custody had been “positive and had included extensive efforts to help others”.
But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed late on Friday that Buckland would ask the Parole Board to reconsider the move. It is understood the department believes there is an arguable case that the Parole Board’s decision was “irrational”.
An MoJ spokesperson said: “Our heartfelt sympathies remain with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth. After a careful review, the lord chancellor will ask the Parole Board to reconsider its decision.”
Buckland will submit the application on Monday once the victims’ families have had the opportunity to make representations.
It will then be for the Parole Board to decide whether the threshold is met for the decision to be formally reconsidered. The threshold for a Parole Board decision to be reconsidered is the same as that required for a judicial review: that the decision was irrational or the process by which the decision was reached was flawed.
Under the conditions of his release, Pitchfork, now 61, would have to live at a designated address, wear an electronic tag, complete lie detector tests and disclose what vehicles he uses and to whom he speaks, with particular limits on contact with children.
The families of the victims have criticised the board’s decision. “There are some crimes so horrendous that a reprieve is not appropriate. It is an affront to natural justice,” Dawn’s uncle, Philip Musson, previously said. “He took their lives in a way which is an absolute torment to those who cared and loved these girls.”
Pitchfork was caught after the world’s first mass screening for DNA, when 5,000 men in three villages were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples, although he initially evaded justice by getting a colleague to take the test for him.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, two of rape, two of indecent assault and one of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The lord chief justice at the time, Lord Lane, said: “From the point of view of the safety of the public, I doubt if he should ever be released.”