A decision to transfer one of Sophie Lancaster’s killers to an open prison has been slammed as unjust by her mother Sylvia.
Ryan Herbert, then 16, was one of two men handed life sentences for murdering Sophie, 20, who died of her injuries after being savagely beaten along with her boyfriend Robert Maltby in Stubbylee Park in Bacup in August 2007.
A Parole Board hearing has now recommended that Herbert, who can apply for release on parole in February 2022 following two reductions in his original minimum sentence tariff, be transferred to less secure, open prison conditions.
Speaking on August 11, the 13th anniversary of the day of the attack, Dr Sylvia Lancaster OBE said her thoughts were not with Herbert but with Sophie.
She said: “Anyone who has lost a loved one to violence knows that the law and justice are different things. I know he is on his journey through the system, but my beautiful daughter lost her life and we can have no respite from that loss.
“Days like today are hard to bear - you feel overwhelmed again with the injustice and unfairness of it all. It is particularly hard to hear in August, as we face the anniversaries of the attack and of the day we lost her.”
The case was considered at an oral hearing on July 22 conducted remotely by telephone links due to current Covid-19 restrictions.
The decision panel was asked to make a balanced assessment of the risks and benefits of a transfer to open conditions.
At the hearing, the panel took oral evidence from Herbert’s probation officer based in the community, the official supervising his case in prison and a psychologist employed by the prison service.
Herbert, who was 15 at the time of the attack, also gave evidence to the panel and was legally represented at the hearing, while the panel also received a victim personal statement.
The parole report states: “After the initial stages of his detention, he had matured and his behaviour had radically improved.
“Witnesses reported on significant achievements, especially in his current location.”
The panel noted the presence of protective factors which would reduce the risk of reoffending.
There was no detailed release plan provided by Herbert’s probation officer.
However the panel heard evidence about possible arrangements which may be made if he was transferred to open conditions and took “temporary releases from prison as part of his eventual resettlement planning”. It is now up to the Secretary of State to approve the Parole Board’s recommendation.
A Parole Board spokesperson said: “Following an oral hearing, the Parole Board has made the recommended that Ryan Herbert is suitable for a move to an open conditions prison.
“We will only make a recommendation for open conditions if a Parole Board panel is satisfied that the risk to the public has reduced sufficiently to be manageable in an open prison.”
The purposes of a period in open conditions prison include allowing areas of concern to be tested in conditions more closely resembling those to be found in the community, or to allow prisoners the opportunity to take more responsibility for their actions.
Herbert, who also admitted assault causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Maltby, saw his minimum sentence cut by 12 months to 14 and a half years at the High Court in February. The original 16 years and three months tariff had already previously been trimmed by nine months on appeal.
Back in February anti-hate crime campaigner Sylvia said the sentence reduction decision made a “mockery” of justice.
Brendan Harris, who was found guilty of Sophie’s murder after a Preston Crown Court trial, and admitted the attack on Mr Maltby, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years.
His tariff was reviewed by a judge in January who concluded he had not made enough progress to have his sentence reduced.
Sylvia, who runs the Haslingden-based Sophie Lancaster Foundation, added: “I want to thank all of you for your love and support.
“From day one you have joined us in our work to combat hate and prejudice.
“We will carry on educating people that difference is what makes us who we are, and violence is never the answer.”
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