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British prisoners still serving whole life sentences

A prisoner behind bars with dates written on the prison walls
Image: Shutterstock

In total there are some 70+ criminals in the British penal system that will never see the light of day again. At least not outside of a prison yard, anyway.

‘Whole life orders’ are not given out lightly. To sentence someone to spend the rest of their life behind bars, you have to be pretty sure that their crimes merit the sentence and that rehabilitation is extremely unlikely.

The majority of those British criminals looking at genuine ‘life means life’ sentences are rotting in prison because of the say-so of a High Court judge after a trial. Among the more infamous murderers who will die in jail cursing their trial judge include:

● ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port

● Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden’s killer Christopher Halliwell

● Mancunian gangster Stephen McColl

● Scottish serial killer Peter Tobin

● ‘Bullseye Killer’ John Cooper

● Cop killer Dale Cregan

● Peterborough ditch murderer Joanna Dennehy

● The ‘Suffolk Strangler’ Steve Wright

● Lee Rigby’s killer Michael Adebolajo

● ‘The Bus Stop Stalker’ serial killer and rapist Levi Bellfield

● Coventry triple killer and rapist Anthony Russell

● Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah

● Killer nurse Lucy Letby

Judicially, very few people outrank trial judges. One figure who does, however, is the Home Secretary. In truly outstanding circumstances, The Secretary of State for the Home Department can directly impose the order themselves. It’s a move usually reserved for extremely high profile and disturbing crimes.

There are currently just 11 inmates serving entire life sentences that have been handed to them by a Home Secretary. As you may expect, it reads like a who’s who of British criminal notoriety. A rogues gallery par excellence.

Here they are:

Rose West

Between 2002 and 2014, Rosemary West was the only woman in the British prison system serving a whole life order. Initially, the infamous Gloucester killer was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years for the murders of 10 young women (including her own daughter and stepdaughter), committed with her equally depraved husband Fred. Two years later, Jack Straw was installed as the new Home Secretary under Tony Blair and ordered for her to never again walk the streets.

John Childs

East End gangster and hitman Childs was Britain’s most sought-after, effective and elusive contract killer of the 1970s. Eventually apprehended at the end of the decade, he admitted to having carried out six murders for money, although no bodies or remains were ever discovered. He later confessed to a further five murders while inside. He implicated two other criminals in his crimes, both of whom were convicted. It was later found that Childs had perjured himself in the process and the men were innocent. After that, the ‘pathological liar’ was given his order never to leave prison.

Robert Maudsley

Britain’s longest-serving prisoner is known for being dangerous. In fact, his reputation as an inmate is perhaps second only to a certain Charlie Bronson. It’s warranted too. At least it used to be anyway. After all, you don’t get the nickname ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’ for nothing, do you? Maudsley was sent to Broadmoor in 1973 after strangling a man called John Farrell. Since then he’s killed three more men, all while inside. The nickname comes from the special cell he’s kept in. Well, that and because he ate some of his one his victims’ brains. It’s no huge surprise that Robert Maudsley won’t ever be allowed out of prison.

Peter Moore

Despite challenging the order with the European Court of Human Rights, Peter ‘The Man in Black’ Moore couldn’t get his whole life order overturned. Instead, he’ll die in prison after he was handed down the harshest sentence it’s possible to receive in the UK. His crimes? Moore was a sadistic serial killer who killed and mutilated four men in Wales in 1995. He was also found guilty of a further 40 serious sexual assaults and rapes of men over a 20-year period. Moore was friends inside with Dr Harold Shipman until Shipman’s suicide in 2004.

Malcolm Green

In late 1989, Malcolm Green attacked, killed and dismembered a tourist from New Zealand. It was a particularly callous murder as he then wrapped the various body parts and scattered them far and wide across South Wales. The murder earned him a whole life order. Why? Well, it had to be taken into account that Green had previously served an 18 year stretch for killing a sex worker. It was decided that he would likely kill again were he to be released at any point.

Mark Robinson

Mark Robinson, like several others on this list, first received ‘merely’ a life sentence for a murder he committed. After two and a half decades, Robinson would be eligible for parole. Like Malcolm Green, Robinson’s last conviction really would be his last after an earlier murder conviction was taken into account and a whole life tariff was imposed from on high. And understandably so.

Arthur Hutchinson

In 1984, then Home Secretary Leon Brittan handed down a whole life order to the rapist and spree killer Arthur Hutchinson. Despite multiple appeals, the sentence is always upheld. It seems that no one is prepared to let the Hartlepool-born monster be released on their watch. He’ll almost certainly die in prison.

Anthony Arkwright

At just 21, Anthony Arkwright is the youngest person in Britain to receive a ‘life means life’ sentence. In 1988, across two days, he beat and hacked up three people, including his own grandfather.

Victor Miller

A sadist and prolific rapist of young boys, Victor Miller finally tipped the balance and killed a 14-year-old boy from Worcestershire in 1988. He was, like many other killers here, initially dished out a 25-year life sentence. Unusually, he requested a whole life order, asking to die in prison and never be released. The Home Secretary at the time, Douglas Hurd, agreed.

John Duffy

‘The Railway Killer’ and rapist John Duffy was found guilty of killing two women and raping seven more in the late eighties. The true numbers were no doubt higher. He received a 30-year sentence for his sickening crimes and would have been considered for parole in 2018 were he not later been handed a whole life order. One of the reasons was that he worked with an accomplice who he refused to name.

Jeffrey Bamber

The White House Farm murderer Jeffrey Bamber was found guilty of slaughtering his adoptive parents, his sister and his young twin nephews. He carried out the atrocity at the family’s remote Essex farmhouse in August 1985. 14 months later he was convicted. Bamber’s trial judge sentenced him to 25 years but admitted that it seemed ‘very unlikely that he would ever be released. Subsequent Home Secretaries tend to agree.

Lucy Letby

Former neo-natal nurse, Lucy Letby, was convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others at the Countess of Chester hospital. She will die in prison after being handed 14 whole-life orders. During sentencing, Mr Justice Goss commented that Letby showed
'A deep malevolence bordering on sadism and she will spend the rest of [her] life in prison'.

Dishonourable mentions

The following infamous British serial killers were also given whole life sentences by the Home Secretary at the time of their sentencing, but have since died:

● ‘Dr. Death’ Harold Shipman

● Muswell Hill Murderer Dennis Nilsen

● Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley

● Child Killer Robert Black

● ‘The Gay Slayer’ Colin Ireland

● 'Camden Ripper’ Anthony Hardy