Whole-life orders: The sentence that sees criminals likely to die behind bars

They will never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system, for those who commit the most serious crimes.

Gun fanatic Louis De Zoysa joins the UK’s most dangerous offenders, who are likely to die behind bars, after being handed one for shooting Metropolitan Police custody sergeant Matt Ratana while handcuffed in a police cell in  2020.

He joins a list of notorious names, including Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens, necrophiliac David Fuller and quadruple murderer Damien Bendall.

They will never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

De Zoysa, 26, was found guilty of murder at Northampton Crown Court after jurors were shown distressing CCTV footage of him using a legally bought revolver to shoot Sgt Ratana.

Wayne Couzens
Wayne Couzens is serving a whole-life sentence for the murder of Sarah Everard (Metropolitan Police/PA)

His victim died in hospital, despite the efforts of medical staff, after being struck by two bullets in a holding cell in Croydon, south London.

The jury which convicted the former tax office data analyst was not told a shortened infantry rifle, numerous types of ammunition, a pipe gun and a dummy launcher were found at his rented property after the killing.

De Zoysa was younger at the time of the order being imposed than terrorist Ali Harbi Ali, who was also 26 when he was given a whole-life order for the murder of MP Sir David Amess in October 2021.

More than 60 criminals are serving whole-life orders.

Last December “brutal” killer Damien Bendall received one for murdering his  partner Terri Harris, 35, her daughter Lacey Bennett, 11, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, also 11, who was staying for a sleepover.

In December 2021, David Fuller was handed a whole-life tariff for the murders of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987 and the sexual abuse of more than 100 dead women and girls in hospital mortuaries.

Couzens’ whole-life sentence for the murder of Sarah Everard was the first time it has been imposed for a single murder of an adult not committed in the course of a terror attack.

Ali Harbi Ali court case
Ali Harbi Ali was handed a whole-life order after being convicted of murdering MP Sir David Amess (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield  is serving two whole-life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Other notorious criminals serving whole-life orders include Gloucester serial killer Rose West; Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones in Wales; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox; serial killer Stephen Port and, more recently, the Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah, who murdered three men in a park.

Before they died, Moors murderer Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and doctor Harold Shipman, thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers, were also among those serving whole-life orders.

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole-life tariffs and these are now determined by judges.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed through Parliament last year, the Government has expanded the use of whole-life orders for premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.

The act also gives judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole-life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.

Manchester Arena bomb plotter Hashem Abedi, who was convicted of conspiring with his suicide bomber brother Salman Abedi over the 2017 atrocity, avoided a whole-life order because he was 21 at the time.

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