First public parole hearing in UK history takes place

As of last July, victims, press and interested parties are allowed to request a public review of cases

Russell Causley with his wife Carole and daughter Samantha. PA
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The first public parole hearing in UK history has taken place after promises to remove the secrecy around the process following the John Worboys scandal.

The hearing was for Russell Causley, 79, who murdered his wife Carole Packman in 1985 in Bournemouth, England.

He told the hearing that it was his former lover Patricia Causley, whose name he took, who carried out the killing.

Ms Causley was never tried over the killing.

Mr Causley has always refused to reveal the whereabouts of his wife's body and the parole hearing is thought to be the first time he has explained what happened to her.

The hearing was told that following his release in 2020 after serving more than 23 years in custody, Mr Causley was recalled to prison a year later for breaking his licence conditions.

His prison offender manager said the risk of him committing another offence was low.

The panel is expected to announce its decision on the case this month.

Ministers pledged to improve transparency over Parole Board decisions after a public outcry over the direction to release London taxi driver rapist Worboys, which was overturned by the High Court in 2018 following a legal challenge by two of his victims.

Parole hearings — which decide if criminals, including terrorists and those serving life sentences, should be freed from jail or stay behind bars — have always been held in private inside prisons, with victims and other observers granted limited access in rare circumstances.

But since rule changes came into force in July, victims, the press and other interested parties are allowed to request a case is reviewed in public to remove the secrecy around the process.

“Pulling back the curtain on the parole process by allowing hearings to be heard in public is a major step forward for victims who want to see justice being done first-hand," said Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.

“It marks the first step in our reforms to overhaul the system, putting victims and public protection front and centre of the process.”

It was also anticipated that Causley’s case would be considered by the Parole Board under Helen’s Law.

Russell Causley became the first prisoner to have a public parole board hearing. PA

The changes to legislation were a bid to make it harder for killers to get parole if they refuse to reveal where they hid their victim’s body.

But the public and press observing Monday’s proceedings were told the law does not apply in recall cases, where a prisoner is sent back to jail after being released after breaching licence conditions and is making a new bid for freedom.

The Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020, known as Helen’s Law, came into force last January.

Named after insurance clerk Helen McCourt, who vanished on her way home from work in 1988, the law means the Parole Board is legally required to consider whether prisoners have co-operated with inquiries as part of their assessment, after years of campaigning by Ms McCourt’s mother Marie.

Russell Causley and Carole Packman's daughter Samantha Gillingham at the Parole Board Offices, London, on Monday after the first public hearing in UK history. PA

It is hoped the law change will lead to more killers owning up to their crimes, providing answers for grieving families.

Charles Bronson – one of the UK’s longest serving and most notorious prisoners, who has since changed his surname to Salvador – has also been granted a request to have his parole case heard in public when he makes his latest bid for freedom.

A date is yet to be set but the hearing is expected to take place next year.

Updated: December 12, 2022, 11:10 PM