Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 10:43 UK

'Strangler' wins murders appeal

Kenneth Erskine

A man dubbed the Stockwell Strangler for killing seven people has had his murder convictions reduced to manslaughter on appeal.

Kenneth Erskine is serving a minimum of 40 years for strangling the group of men and women, aged between 67 and 94.

Judges had been urged to quash his conviction and accept manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility.

Psychiatric reports said Erskine was severely schizophrenic at the time of the offences in south London in 1986.

The decision was announced by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other judges at the Court of Appeal in London.

Erskine's case centred on fresh medical evidence he was suffering an "abnormality" of the mind that substantially diminished his responsibility for the crimes.

'Chronic and incurable'

Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Erskine, accepted the crimes were "of the utmost gravity".

But he said medical experts agreed his client was suffering "severe schizophrenia at the time of the offences" and his mental condition was chronic and incurable, requiring life-long treatment.

Dr Andrew Horne, a consultant at Broadmoor Hospital, told the hearing that Erskine's responsibility for his actions would have been diminished to a "massive degree" by his illness.

Lord Judge said: "We are satisfied that the convictions for murder were unsafe.

Hospital order

"It is overwhelmingly clear that, at the time when the appellant appeared at trial, there was unequivocal contemporaneous evidence that his mental responsibility for his actions at the time of the killing was substantially impaired."

The appeal judges imposed a hospital order in Erskine's case.

Lord Judge said that, in the "interests of public safety", the order was for an indefinite period.

Erskine, who was born in July 1963, was 24 when he was sentenced in January 1988 for the murders of the four men and three women.

The trial judge recommended he serve a 40-year minimum term but no exact tariff was set.

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