Families of victims reveal pain after Parole Board chief is made CBE

Martin Jones, chief executive officer of the Parole Board for England and Wales (PA Archive)
15:59pm, Sat 12 Jun 2021
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Grieving relatives have expressed their pain and anger after the chief executive of the Parole Board was made a CBE for services to victims.

The honour for Martin Jones, who has been in post since 2015, comes just days after an outcry over the Parole Board’s decision to release Colin Pitchfork, who raped and killed two schoolgirls in the 1980s.

Pitchfork was the first man convicted of murder on the basis of DNA evidence and was jailed for life for strangling 15-year-olds Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in Leicestershire in 1983 and 1986.

Colin Pitchfork (PA Media)

Dawn’s mother Barbara Ashworth, 75, of Liskeard, Cornwall, said: “Nothing amazes me anymore about all of this. I do not think it is a good idea for him to get it.

“They get all the pluses, people like him and Colin Pitchfork, and nothing for the victims.”

Some relatives of the victims, politicians and detectives involved in the case expressed concerns about Pitchfork’s release. The Government is considering whether to challenge the decision.

Mr Jones is also celebrated in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his work on diversity and transparency within the parole process.

Marie McCourt, 77, whose 22-year-old insurance clerk daughter Helen vanished on her way home from work in 1988, said it was “very bad timing” for him to get the award given this week’s announcement of Pitchfork’s release.

Helen McCourt (PA Media)

Mrs McCourt, of Billinge, Merseyside, said “I have no faith in the man” and added: “I am angry to hear that he has been given this when I believe that he is not the right man in that job.”

Ms McCourt’s murderer, Ian Simms, was released last year despite never saying where he hid her body.

Comments made by Mr Jones, also a former Ministry of Justice (MoJ) head of sentencing, last year prompted some anger from campaigners for Helen’s Law – named after Helen McCourt.

It seeks to make it harder for killers to get parole if they refuse to reveal where they hid their victim’s body.

He warned that killers who refuse to disclose where they have hidden their victim’s body could still be freed from jail despite the fresh legislation being introduced in a bid to deny them parole.

As part of efforts to avoid giving families false hope over the rules, he made clear that although prisoners will now be questioned and failure to co-operate may not work in their favour, the Parole Board must still release them if it is decided they are no longer a risk to the public.

But some feared the comments cast doubt on how effective the changes would be.

The row over Pitchfork shares similarities with one which erupted in 2018 when the Parole Board issued a direction to release black cab rapist John Worboys.

John Worboys (PA Media)

The decision was overturned by the High Court amid outrage that his victims had not been part of the original decision-making process – prompting ministers to pledge more transparency over the decisions.

A different Parole Board panel later concluded he should remain in prison.

Worboys has since admitted more offences and is thought to have been responsible for 100 attacks in total.

Conservative South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa, who raised concerns about Pitchfork’s release with the Parole Board, acknowledged that Mr Jones’s honour would have been recommended by an independent committee but said the timing of the announcement was “to be regretted” as it came in “the same week as another appalling decision by the Parole Board in the matter of Pitchfork”.

“I think it’s entirely legitimate to ask whether it’s appropriate for Mr Jones to be given an honour considering that the matter of Pitchfork has caused such anxiety in wider society,” he added.

“I’m working with the Justice Secretary to persuade him to exercise his discretion to apply the reconsideration mechanism which would allow him to insist the Parole Board think again on its decision on Pitchfork.”

In October, an assessment of the parole system by the MoJ found problems, like a high number of delays to cases, were adding to the “stresses of victims during an already challenging time”.

Parole Board hearings take place in private, normally in prisons, with victims and observers such as reporters being given limited access in rare circumstances.

But Mr Jones has backed plans for proceedings to take place in public amid efforts to overhaul the system and remove the secrecy surrounding the Parole Board’s work.

He has also welcomed the idea of contempt of court-like powers for parole hearings in a bid to limit delays.

A spokesman for the Parole Board declined to comment.

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