Pitchfork when arrested
23 March 1960
Span of crimes
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 neighbouring Leicestershire villages, 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, 15-year-old Lynda Mann took a shortcut on her way home from babysitting instead of taking her normal route home. She did not return and so her parents and neighbours spent the night searching for her. 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% of males. With no other leads or evidence, the case was left open.
On 31 July 1986, a second 15-year-old girl, Dawn Ashworth, left her home to visit a friend's house. Her parents expected her to come home at 9:30 PM; when she failed to do so they called police to report her missing. 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 to the Ashworth 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 by 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 began 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 rapes/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, Bringing the Music to Life, depicted an orchestra and choir. 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.
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 denied parole again in 2018. He may be eligible for parole again in 2020.
On 3 May 2018, Pitchfork was denied parole. The Parole Board said Pitchfork will be eligible for a further review within two years. Lynda's mother said the Parole Board had "listened to us before the murderer". Last year, it emerged Pitchfork would be released from open prison on unsupervised days out. It had been widely expected that Pitchfork could be approaching final release from prison on parole.
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 the first broadcast in two 90-minute episodes, on 6 and 13 April 2015. It was subsequently reformatted as three episodes and released on DVD.
The New Tricks episode "Dark Chocolate" refers to Colin Pitchfork several times and it is ultimately the similarities between Pitchfork's case and the case the UCOS team are currently investigating that leads to the criminal's arrest.
- Wambaugh, Joseph (29 November 2011). The Blooding. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781453234235.
- Evans, Colin (1998). The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes. London: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 62. ISBN 978-0471283690.
- Graff, Vincent (4 April 2015) "DNA of a killer", Radio Times, Pages 24-27
- McCrery, Nigel (1 September 2014). Silent Witnesses: The Often Gruesome but Always Fascinating History of Forensic Science. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613730058.
- Cobain, Ian (7 June 2016). "Killer breakthrough – the day DNA evidence first nailed a murderer". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- O'Connor, Craig O. (1 January 2008). A Novel Forensic Approach to DNA Database Construction and Population Genetic Analysis. ISBN 9780549619871.
- "Memories of Colin Pitchfork's second murder - 30 years on". Leicester Mercury. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2017.[permanent dead link]
- "No parole for Colin Pitchfork: First killer caught by DNA". BBC News. 29 April 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Shaw, Danny (27 April 2015). "'DNA' child killer Colin Pitchfork gets parole review". BBC News. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Pitchfork, R v  EWCA Crim 963
- "Anger over child killer's artwork". BBC News. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
- "Colin Pitchfork: First killer caught by DNA "should move to open prison"". BBC News. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- "Colin Pitchfork: Fears after child killer moved to open prison". BBC News. 8 January 2017. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- "Colin Pitchfork: Double child killer denied parole". BBC News. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
- Lee Marlow, "Code of a Killer: ITV film crew shoot in Leicester for two part drama on how DNA profiling snared double-child killer" Archived 11 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Leicester Mercury, 30 October 2014
Cited works and further reading
- Cawthorne, Nigel; Tibballs, Jeffrey (1994). Killers. Boxtree. pp. 338–341. ISBN 978-0-7522-0850-3.
- Evans, Colin (1996). The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. ISBN 978-0-471-07650-6.
- Wambaugh, Joseph (1990). The Blooding: True Story of the Narborough Village Murders. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-76330-0.