Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder on the Moors: The Ian Brady and Myra Hindley Story

Update of the Myra Hindley Story

Campaign for freedom

In 1997, 31 years after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Myra Hindley began a campaign for her early release. A news story, featured in BBC's Online Crime Archive, detailed how Hindley believes she has "atoned" for her crimes and should be released from prison.

A month earlier, Sir Frederick Lawton, a former Appeals Court judge, had said the Home Secretary Jack Straw was wrong in his decision that Hindley should never be released as he did not take into consideration the parole board's view that Hindley had "confronted her offending behavior and was no longer a risk to the public."

Her original sentence, set in 1985 by the British Home Office, was for 30 years, which meant she would have been due for release in 1996.

However in 1990, the then Conservative Home Secretary, David Waddington, decreed, "Life should mean life," meaning Hindley would die in prison.

In 1994, Waddington's decision was confirmed by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, and again when Jack Straw took office after Labor's election victory in May 1997.

Lawton also said he believed that if the decision had been left to the judges, justice would have been done and Myra Hindley would be free, regardless of the outcry such a decision would have caused.

Based on these and other comments, Hindley's lawyers launched an appeal against the original ruling but on Thursday, December 18, 1997, the appeal was rejected.

Following the decision Hindley was placed on a "suicide watch" at Durham Prison.

Life Behind Bars

Although Hindley continues to fight for her release she is aware that her life would be far from normal outside of prison as relatives of her victims have vowed vengeance if she is ever released. She has gained a degree in humanities, spends most of her time reading and studying languages and, according to her prison counselor, "deeply regrets her involvement with Brady."

Since "rediscovering" her faith in Catholicism during the 70's, Hindley continues to express sorrow and remorse for her crimes. "I ask people to judge me as I am now and not as I was then," she has stated.

During her years in prison she has attracted a long list of supporters including Lord Longford, solicitor Andrew McCooey, the Reverend Peter Timms, and David Astor, a former editor of The Observer.

Regardless of their varying backgrounds they all believe that Hindley has served more than double the usual sentence for murder, has been on good behavior for the duration of that sentence and therefore is overdue for release. "She had shown no criminal tendencies until her involvement with Brady, and she has shown none since," David Astor has said.

Her lawyers have also argued that she has been assessed by psychiatrists, doctors, prison officials and chaplains who all agree she is no longer a threat to society. This, together with the guidelines set up under the parole system of the 1960's means she has more than qualified for early release.

A public poll, conducted by BBC Radio 5Live, disagrees, with 66% of listeners voting that she should never be released, compared to 34% who believe that Hindley should have some chance for freedom. The mother of Keith Bennett, one of Hindley's victims, agrees with the poll results: "The Government must listen to what the people are saying and never let her go."

Failing Health

On Friday, December 19, 1997, according to the {BBC Online} archive, Hindley was taken to Dryburn hospital in County Durham for undisclosed tests. During her stay in hospital she was kept in a single room under armed guard.

A month later she was moved to Highpoint medium security prison in Suffolk which has the reputation of being more like a holiday camp than a prison.

Hindley, who is classed as a category 'A' prisoner as she is considered to pose the greatest risk of escape, is normally subject to the most stringent security measures.

Her supporters saw the move to the lower security prison as a "breakthrough in her quest for release."

In September 1999, Hindley was diagnosed as having angina, a direct result of years of heavy smoking. According to a report in the Sun newspaper, the doctor who examined her considered her heart condition as "advanced" and warned that it "could kill her at any time."

The British Prison Service made no comment following the report, but a prison source confirmed that Hindley is a very heavy smoker. "She has been told on numerous occasions that if she's suffering from angina and smokes as heavily as she does, then she's bound to be putting herself at risk."

Hearing the news of Hindley's failing health, Winnie Johnson, mother of victim Keith Bennett, called on Hindley to tell authorities where her son's body was buried "before it's too late." She added that she hoped Hindley suffered before she died.

On Friday, 7 January, 2000, after two further trips to hospital, Myra Hindley was scheduled for emergency surgery at a specialist brain center, to cure a cerebral aneurysm, a potentially fatal brain swelling.

Her condition was described as "serious" with doctors saying that, without treatment, it could prove fatal.

Three days later, Hindley asked doctors to "let her die" if the operation on her brain failed. The request came after she had asked her lawyers to draw up a will.

The surgery was later deemed a success but doctors continued to describe Hindley's condition as "fragile."

On Tuesday, 29 February 2000, BBC TV announced it would air a documentary that depicted Hindley saying she wished she had been hanged for her crimes. The documentary, titled Modern Times showed Hindley asking, "whether some crimes are so terrible that the people who commit them should die behind bars".

The program also features an actress reading from the hundreds of letters that Hindley sent to the show's producer telling the story of her meeting and relationship with Ian Brady.

One letter states: "I knew I was a selfish coward but I could not bear the thought of being hanged, although over the years I wish I had been. It would have solved so many problems. The family of the victims would have derived some peace of mind and the tabloids would not have been able to manipulate them as they do to this day.

I would have made a total confession to the priest before I hanged and would not still be half crippled by the burden of guilt that will not go away. But I didn't hang."

In the letters Hindley also detailed how the strength of her love for Ian Brady had been part of the reason she allowed herself to be pushed into murder. She described him as having "such a powerful personality, such an overwhelming charisma. If he'd told me the moon was made of green cheese or that the sun rose in the west I would have believed him."

The victims' families objected to the program being screened describing it as "a disgrace and an insult". Alan West, father of Hindley victim Leslie Ann West, was interviewed and asked, "Why can't the families be spared the constant indignity of Hindley's continuous publicity seeking?"

Alex Holmes, BBC Executive producer, defended the programme, saying: "This film is not a platform for Hindley but an attempt to reach some understanding of the terrible crimes that happened. It's investigating whether life should mean life, an important and current debate that is going on."

On Thursday, 30 March 2000, Hindley's bid for freedom suffered a serious set back when an appeal to the House of Lords for her early release was defeated. A panel of five lords ruled that her life sentence "must mean life" in view of her "exceptionally wicked and uniquely evil" crimes. Commenting on the ruling Lord Steyn said, "Even in the sordid history of crimes against children the murders committed by Hindley, jointly with Ian Brady, were uniquely evil."

On hearing the decision, Hindley's lawyers said they planned a further legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights.

On Monday, 23 April, 2001, media outlets throughout the U.K. carried reports that Myra Hindley was suffering from advanced lung cancer and had only weeks to live. Prison officials later denied the claims.



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