Hartlepool triple-killer ‘The Fox’ loses European Court challenge

Arthur Hutchinson
Arthur Hutchinson

HARTLEPOOL triple killer Arthur Hutchinson has lost his challenge at the European Court of Human Rights against his whole-life prison sentence.

The judgment is the latest development in the protracted legal wrangle over “life means life” terms.

Hutchinson, known as The Fox, was jailed in 1984 for stabbing wealthy couple Basil and Avril Laitner to death after breaking into their Sheffield home on the night of their daughter’s wedding, then killing one of their sons.

He was the first Briton to challenge the sentence after a controversial ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in July 2013 that whole-life tariffs breach human rights.

The Strasbourg-based court held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights - which relates to inhuman and degrading treatment - on the basis that whole-life orders were not “reducible”.

The court did not say whole-life sentences were incompatible with the convention, but said there had to be the possibility of a review at some stage and that current laws allowing for release in exceptional circumstances were unclear.

But judges ruled that in Hutchinson’s case there was no violation of Article 3 as the Secretary of State has the power to review whole-life sentences.

Court of Appeal judges ruled last year that the Grand Chamber was wrong when it said the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide for “reducibility”, saying the domestic law “is clear as to ‘possible exceptional release of whole-life prisoners’”.

They underlined the power given to the secretary of state to release a prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.

In the latest judgment the European judges found by a majority that they consider the legal situation in the UK to be in line with human rights laws.

In their written ruling, they said: “In the circumstances of this case where, following the Grand Chamber’s judgment in which it expressed doubts about the clarity of domestic law, the national court has specifically addressed those doubts and set out an unequivocal statement of the legal position, the court must accept the national court’s interpretation of domestic law.”

The list of whole-lifers includes some of the most notorious prisoners in Britain, including one-eyed police killer Dale Cregan, who lured Pcs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone to their deaths in a gun and grenade attack; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones; and Moors murderer Ian Brady.

Six years ago, Hutchinson had a domestic appeal against whole-life tariffs kicked out by the Court of Appeal.

The judge in his original 1984 trial ruled that he should serve 18 years but then-home secretary Leon Brittan later ruled he should face the whole-life tariff.