Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

There have been enough monsters after them - Denis Nielsen, Peter Sutcliffe, Harold Shipman, Fred West - but the 1960s Moors Murderers still arouse the greatest revulsion. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley didn't murder as many people as those other serial killers: their victims were only five.

But they were all children, sexually abused, tortured and then killed with unspeakable cruelty. The case of the ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey is the most dreadful. Brady, with Hindley's collusion, not only undressed her, gagged her, forced her to pose for pornographic photographs, raped her and killed her, probably by strangling her with a piece of string; he also made a 13-minute tape recording of her screaming and pleading for help, a tape to which her mother had to listen to confirm to the police that the voice was hers.

These are events that are still painful to think about almost half a century after they occurred. But every now and then one is forced against one's will to think about them.

The late Lord Longford bears some responsibility for this by conducting a long campaign for the release of Myra Hindley after she was received in prison into the Roman Catholic Church. His efforts were doomed from the start, for the families of her victims and public opinion in general would never have tolerated any reduction in her life sentence. But he was also misguided to think that repentance and religious conversion could in themselves be reasons for setting her free. If they were, prisoners throughout the land would be queuing up to convert.

Hindley's record in prison had not been good. She had even attempted to escape with the assistance of a female prison officer with whom she had fallen in love. And I think that her religious conversion, if genuine, should have included the humble acceptance of a punishment that she richly deserved. Instead, she argued that she had become a good and decent person who was therefore entitled to be free. She was thwarted in this ambition. She died ten years ago of a chest infection after 36 years in jail. She was 60 years old.

On hearing in 2004 that Dr Harold Shipman, sentenced to life after murdering more than 250 of his patients, had hanged himself in Wakefield Prison, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said he felt like 'opening a bottle'. I don't know if he had felt the same about Myra Hindley, but for a Home Secretary to rejoice when a wicked person dies in prison puts him in conflict with official policy, which requires prisons and mental hospitals to do everything they can to keep even their most loathsome inmates alive. …

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