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Sunday, December 7, 1997 Published at 22:01 GMT

Myra Hindley

Hindley's life in prison: a process of atonement?
image: [ Myra Hindley and her statement of apology ]
Myra Hindley and her statement of apology

Myra Hindley is determined that she has atoned for the Moors murders, and that after 31 years, she should be released from prison.

Hindley's lawyers are appealing against the ruling by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, last month that she will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Since the ruling Ms Hindley, 54, has been put on a suicide watch at Durham Prison where she is serving her sentence.

[ image: The bodies of Downey and Evans were found in 1965]
The bodies of Downey and Evans were found in 1965
She was jailed in 1966 with Ian Brady for murdering Lesley-Ann Downey, 10, and Edward Evans, 17. Mr Brady was also convicted of the murder of schoolboy, John Kilbride, who went missing from a market in Ashton-Under-Lyme, near Manchester.

Mr Brady and Ms Hindley were jailed for life, and the judge recommended that they serve "a very long time".

Myra Hindley denied killing the children for years, but in the mid 1980s she began to talk for the first time about what she had done with her counsellor Rev Peter Timms.

[ image: Hindley helped police locate the body of Pauline Reede]
Hindley helped police locate the body of Pauline Reede
This led to a confession, in 1987, to involvement in the killings of Keith Bennett, 12, and Pauline Reade, 16. She indicated that their bodies had, like those of John Kilbride and Lesley-Ann Downey, been buried on Saddleworth Moor.

In recent years Ms Hindley has been campaigning hard for release, although she knows that her life would never be normal outside prison.

Relatives of the Moors victims have promised to attack her if she is ever released from prison. In September protesters threw ink and eggs over a controversial portrait of Hindley, made with imprints from a child hands, which was on show at London's Royal Academy.

She rediscovered her faith in Catholicism in the 1970s, and has expressed sorrow and remorse for her crimes on many occasions.

"I ask people to judge me as I am now and not as I was then," she said in a public statement in 1994.

Her supporters, who include Lord Longford, her solicitor Andrew McCooey, the Rev. Peter Timms, and the former editor of the Observer, David Astor, say she has already served more than double the sentence usually served by convicted murderers with good records of behaviour.

"She had shown no criminal tendencies until her involvement with Brady, and she has shown none since," Mr Astor said.

Ms Hindley has been assessed by psychiatrists, doctors, prison officials and chaplains all of whom conclude that she is no longer a threat to society. She and her lawyers argue that on the strength of the parole system set up in the 1960s, this all means that she should qualify for early release.

While in prison she has gained a degree in humanities. She spends her time listening to the radio, reading and studying languages. According to her counsellor Joe Chapman, she deeply regrets any involvement with Brady.

In 1985 the Home Office set her sentence at 30 years, which would have meant release in 1996.

But in 1990 the Conservative Home Secretary, David Waddington, decided that for Myra Hindley "life should mean life" and that she should die in prison.

This decision was endorsed four years later by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, and has now been upheld by Jack Straw, who took office after Labour's election victory in May 1997.

But earlier this year Ms Hindley won a judicial review of her tariff. She has argued that Michael Howard acted unlawfully and inhumanely, and that he was swayed by political and public pressure when he rejected her appeal in 1994.

Lord Longford expressed "total disgust and contempt" at Mr Straw's decision, saying it was a result of a prolonged pressure campaign in the tabloids.

He described her as a good, young Catholic until she began to work under the mentally-ill Ian Brady.

[ image: Brady was obsessed with Nazi killings and the work of the Marquis de Sade]
Brady was obsessed with Nazi killings and the work of the Marquis de Sade
"She was an infatuated accomplice 31 years ago, now she's a good woman," he said.

Most people think that Ms Hindley should spend the rest of her life in prison, according to a recent poll of listeners to BBC Radio 5Live.

The poll suggested that 66% of listeners thought she should never be released, compared to 34% saying she should have some chance for freedom.

Winnie Johnson, the mother of one of the victims, Keith Bennett said: "The Government must listen to what the people are saying and never let her go."

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