Victims could get a new independent right of appeal to challenge releases of criminals by the Parole Board after the recall to jail of Colin Pitchfork, the double child murderer, for approaching young women in the street.
Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, is considering proposals to refocus the board on “protecting the public”, which are likely to result in tougher rules to prevent the release of offenders such as Pitchfork, who raped and killed two teenage girls.
It could also see the Parole Board renamed to emphasise its refocussed role, with options already being canvassed such as “public protection” or “risk assessment” board.
“The Justice Secretary is looking closely at proposals. He thinks the parole board is adrift from its core focus and that the risk to the public must trump all other considerations,” said a government source.
Pitchfork, 61, was jailed for life after raping and strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.
His 30-year minimum term was cut by two years in 2009 and he was moved to an open prison three years ago before being released in September.
However, last Friday he was recalled after he approached young women on multiple occasions while out on walks from the bail hostel where he was living and was thought to be trying to establish a connection with them.
Pitchfork was also observed to have a “bad attitude” because he was not as engaging and open with officials as they would want him to be.
Staff spot Pitchfork’s techniques while undergoing polygraph
He was subject to polygraph tests as part of his licence but there are suggestions he may have tried to counteract the results by controlling and altering his physical responses with breathing techniques but this was spotted by staff.
Mr Raab has inherited a root and branch review of the parole board, which was commissioned by his predecessor Robert Buckland following scandals including Pitchfork and the proposed release of black cab rapist John Worboys.
The new Justice Secretary is understood to have told officials he wants a tougher approach than had been envisaged and sent officials back to rewrite the plans.
A victim or the Justice Secretary can challenge a parole decision by the board, as happened with Pitchfork, but this only requires it to reconsider its verdict to release the offender from prison.
Parole Board marking its own homework
Under the review, appeals against parole decisions could be handed to a separate court either replacing, or in addition to the reconsideration process, to end a practice that critics claim allows the board to “mark its own homework”.
The review could also toughen the test for releasing criminals where even though a board might judge they were no longer a threat to the public, it could be overridden if it was safer to keep them behind bars.
Mr Buckland argued for such a change that would focus the board in each case on “how the protection of the public can best be maintained”.
In the New Year, the board is also due to pilot hearings where victims and the press will be able to view them remotely, opening up its proceedings for the first time to the public so that its decisions can be better held to account.
Professor Ian Acheson, a former prison governor and former government adviser on extremism, said: “There is a presumption in favour of rehabilitation. It’s a kind of default in the mindset of the people appointed there.
“What I have argued for consistently – certainly for terrorist offenders – is that it needs a single risk management agency understanding every aspect of the system to protect the public.”