UK

European court rejects whole-life murder term challenge

Arthur Hutchinson (undated) Image copyright PA

A British triple-killer has lost a challenge at the European Court of Human Rights against his whole-life prison term.

Arthur Hutchinson, 75, had argued the punishment amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.

But judges found there had been no violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Hartlepool-born Hutchinson murdered the parents and brother of a bride in Sheffield after her wedding in 1983.

The ruling gives courts in England and Wales the green light to continue imposing whole-life sentences.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights said the prison terms can be regarded as compatible with Article 3.

Hutchinson stabbed to death Basil Laitner, his wife Avril and son Richard at their home in Dore, Sheffield. He also repeatedly raped a wedding guest.


Analysis

Image caption The case was concluded in the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg

By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

After almost a decade of legal wrangling, the European court has finally settled one of the criminal justice system's most emotive issues.

"Whole life" prisoners have invariably committed unspeakable crimes, deserving of the most severe punishment.

But the prisoners also have rights and, it is argued, are entitled to the hope, however remote, of eventual release.

The Strasbourg Court has now concluded that the provisions in place for whole life prisoners in England and Wales do provide them with that possibility by means of a review by the justice secretary, which it says should take place before 25 years of their sentence have passed.

Nevertheless, very few of the 64 inmates detained for the rest of their life are ever likely to be let out because the grounds for doing so are extremely narrow: only if a prisoner has made "exceptional progress" towards their rehabilitation, or if they are gravely ill.


'Heinous crimes'

The judge at his original trial, held at Sheffield Crown Court in 1984, ruled that he should serve 18 years but the-then Home Secretary Leon Brittan later ruled he should face the whole-life tariff.

The Court of Appeal rejected Hutchinson's case in 2008.

The European Court of Human Rights also ruled against him in 2015, saying doubts concerning the release power had been addressed.

But he asked for his challenge to be passed to the Strasbourg court's Grand Chamber for a final ruling.

Judges held by 14 votes to three that there had been no breach of his rights, as prisoners can ask the justice secretary for their sentences to be reviewed at any time.

Among the 64 current whole-life prisoners are police killer Dale Cregan, Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones, and Moors murderer Ian Brady.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss said: "It is right that those who commit the most heinous crimes spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

"It is also wholly right that judges are able to hand down whole-life sentences to the very worst offenders in our society."

More on this story