Pitchfork when arrested
23 March 1960
Newbold Verdon, Leicestershire
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Colin Pitchfork (born 23 March 1960) is a British convicted murderer and rapist. He was the first person convicted of murder based on DNA fingerprinting evidence, and the first to be caught as a result of mass DNA screening. Pitchfork raped and murdered two girls in Leicestershire, the first in Narborough, in November 1983, and the second in Enderby, in July 1986. He was arrested on 19 September 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment on 22 January 1988, after admitting both murders.
Pitchfork lived in Newbold Verdon, attending school in Market Bosworth and Desford, until his marriage in 1981 to a social worker, after which he lived in Littlethorpe. The Pitchforks had two sons.
Pitchfork had obtained work in Hampshires Bakery in 1976 as an apprentice. He continued to work there until his arrest for the murders. He became particularly skilled as a sculptor of cake decorations and had hoped eventually to start his own cake decorating business. According to his supervisor he was "a good worker and time-keeper, but he was moody ... and he couldn't leave women employees alone. He was always chatting them up."
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On 21 November 1983, a 15-year-old girl named Lynda Mann left her home to visit a friend's house. She did not return. The next morning, she was found raped and strangled on a deserted footpath known locally as the Black Pad. Using forensic science techniques available at the time, police linked a semen sample taken from her body to a person with type A blood and an enzyme profile that matched only 10 percent of males. With no other leads or evidence, the case was left open.
On 31 July 1986, another 15-year-old girl, Dawn Ashworth, took a shortcut instead of taking her normal route home. Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area near a footpath called Ten Pound Lane. She had been beaten, savagely raped and strangled to death. The modus operandi matched that of the first attack, and semen samples revealed the same blood type.
The prime suspect was Richard Buckland, a local 17-year-old youth with learning difficulties, who revealed knowledge of Ashworth's body, and admitted the crime under questioning, but denied the first murder.
I was responsible for developing all of the DNA extraction techniques and demonstrating that it was possible after all to obtain DNA profiles from old stains. The biggest achievement was developing the preferential extraction method to separate sperm from vaginal cells – without this method, it would have been difficult to use DNA in rape cases.
Using this technique, Jeffreys compared semen samples from both murder victims against a blood sample from Buckland and conclusively proved that both girls were killed by the same man, but not Buckland. Buckland became the first person to have his innocence established by DNA fingerprinting.
Jeffreys later said:
I have no doubt whatsoever that he [Buckland] would have been found guilty had it not been for DNA evidence. That was a remarkable occurrence.
Leicestershire Constabulary and the FSS then undertook an investigation in which more than 5,500 local men were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples. This took six months, and no matches were found.
Arrest and conviction
On 1 August 1987, one of Pitchfork's colleagues at the bakery, Ian Kelly, revealed to fellow workers in a Leicester pub (The Clarendon) that he had taken the blood test while masquerading as Pitchfork. Pitchfork told Kelly that he could not give blood under his own name because he had already given blood while pretending to be a friend of his who had wanted to avoid being harassed by police because of a youthful conviction for burglary. A woman who overheard the conversation reported it to police.
On 19 September 1987, Pitchfork was arrested. During subsequent questioning, Pitchfork admitted to exposing himself to more than 1,000 women, a compulsion that he had started in his early teens. He later progressed to sexual assault and then to strangling his victims in order to protect his identity. He pleaded guilty to the two rape/murders in addition to another incident of sexual assault, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Lord Chief Justice at the time of his sentencing said: "From the point of view of the safety of the public I doubt if he should ever be released." The Secretary of State set a minimum term of 30 years; in 2009, Pitchfork's sentence was reduced on appeal to 28 years.
In April 2009, a sculpture that Pitchfork had created in prison was exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall. The artwork, entitled Bringing the Music to Life, depicted an orchestra and choir, made "in meticulous miniature detail by folding, cutting and tearing the score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony". The sculpture was exhibited as part of a venture by the Koestler Trust, having been purchased by the Festival Hall for £600. Following outrage in the papers and from victim-advocate groups, it was removed from display. Pitchfork had made the work while in Frankland Prison, Brasside, County Durham. He exhibited it with a caption bearing the words, "Without this opportunity to show our art, many of us would have no incentive, we would stay locked in ourselves as much as the walls that hold us.”
On 22 April 2016, the Parole Board for England and Wales heard Pitchfork's case for early release on parole. Pitchfork's advocates presented evidence of his improved character, noting that Pitchfork had furthered his education to degree level and had become expert at the transcription of printed music into Braille, for the benefit of the blind. The families of victims Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth opposed his release on parole.
On 29 April 2016, the Parole Board announced that Pitchfork's petition for parole had been denied, but they then issued a recommendation that Pitchfork be moved to an open prison. In June 2016, Michael Gove, then serving as Justice Secretary, agreed with the board's recommendation, and at some point prior to 8 January 2017, Pitchfork was moved to an undisclosed open prison. The Parole Board may again consider his release in 2018.
In 2014, ITV commissioned a two-part television drama, Code of a Killer, based on Pitchfork's crimes and the creation of DNA profiling. It starred John Simm as researcher Alec Jeffreys and David Threlfall as David Baker, the lead police detective. Pitchfork was played by Nathan Wright. The drama was first broadcast in two 90-minute episodes, on 6 and 13 April 2015. It was subsequently reformatted as three episodes and released on DVD.
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