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The notorious mass murderers

There are less than 25 killers in the UK considered so dangerous that they have been told they will die in jail.

There are less than 25 killers in the UK considered so dangerous that they have been told they will die in jail.

So rare is it for British courts to hand out full life tariffs that one of the most notorious murderers of our time, Soham killer Ian Huntley - whose actions sparked mass revulsion and anger - is not among the group. At his trial in 2003 for the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the judge stopped short of ordering a full life term and instead ruled he must serve at least 40 years.

When Mr Justice McLaughlin last week told 24-year-old Trevor Hamilton that he would never be released from prison for the horrific murder of Attracta Harron, he would have been well aware he was making legal history in Northern Ireland.

When making his decision that the release provisions of Article 5 (1) of the 2001 Order [The Life Sentence (Northern Ireland) Order 2001] would not apply, he would have considered Hamilton's mental state, his history of sexual violence and the risk he would pose to the public if released. The unprecedented sentence was handed out at a time where there are expectations of leniency from our judiciary.

Moreover, the decision will almost certainly be challenged, possibly in the European Court of Human Rights, which could reduce the tariff.

Hamilton is a young man and could conceivably spend over 60 years locked up.

The full list of UK killers who have received a full life tariff is not known. What is known is it includes many notorious mass murderers including Ian Brady, Peter Sutcliffe, Dennis Nilsen and Rosemary West.

In 2002, a decision by the Law Lords and a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights moved the power to set whole life tariffs from the Home Secretary to judges alone. This followed a number of legal challenges to tariffs imposed by politicians.

And even with full life tariffs, the terms can be reviewed. Gangster Reggie Kray was told he would die in jail, but was later released in August 2000 at age 67 as he was terminally ill with cancer. He died five weeks later.

Although Hamilton was the first killer to be given a whole life tariff in a Northern Ireland court, he is not the first Ulster murderer to receive the sentence.

Thomas McDowell (29), originally from Greenisland in Co Antrim, strangled and decapitated German Andreas Hinz in Camden, England, in July 2002.

McDowell claimed he was tortured by voices in his head - including sports stars Ryan Giggs and Tim Henman. He also claimed during the trial that he slept at night on his mother's grave, although she is still alive.

What is known is that McDowell punched and strangled the scholar after picking him up in a gay bar. McDowell later used a razor blade and a rip-saw to dismember the body in a bath. He wrapped the head, limbs and torso in separate bin bags and left them outside for the bin man.

Hinz's body was found a week later when a building inspector noticed a swarm of flies around the dustbin area at the rear of McDowell's flat.

McDowell admitted the crime soon after to a detective.

At his trial in October 2004, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, said McDowell must spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The trial judge said: "The jury have had no difficulty in agreeing that you are and were a controlled psychopath and that you present a very great and continuing danger to those who happen to come into contact with you, in particular homosexuals, as Mr Hinz was."

Ian Brady



One of the moors murderers, he was convicted of torturing, abusing and murdering two children and killing a teenager with an axe.decades later he admitted killing two more children. held in a mental hospital, he has stated he never wants to be released.


Peter Sutcliffe



The Yorkshire Ripper murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1980. After his conviction he wassentenced to a minimum of 30 years but this was later changed to a whole life tariff by the Government.Following a Law Lords ruling he could be released from prison in 2011 when he is 65 if he is considered not to be a risk to the public. Currently held at a high security mental hospital.


Rosemary West



Convicted of murdering 10 women and girls at her home in Gloucester, including two of her daughters. Her husband Fred committed suicide before he could go on trial. The only woman who is confirmed on the whole life tariff register.


Dennis Nilsen



The homosexual ex-policeman murdered 13 men at his home in north London. Was arrested after workmen found human flesh in a drain. Originally sentenced to a minimum of 25 years but changed to a whole life tariff by the Government.


Harold Shipman



The GP was convicted in 2000 of killing 15 of his female patients by giving them lethal doses of morphine. It is believed his true number of victims could have been as high as 460. Britain's worst serial killer committed suicide in January 2004.

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