EXCLUSIVE: Child killer who raped and murdered his seven-year-old niece then sued Government claiming he should be allowed to vote in prison is released after 45 years behind bars
- Peter Chester got a life sentence in 1977 and has had 11 parole bids rejected
A child killer who took the government to court claiming it was a breach of the Human Rights Act and EU law to ban him from voting has been released from jail after 45 years behind bars.
Peter Chester, now 68, got a life sentence for raping and strangling his seven-year-old niece, Donna Marie Gillbanks, in Blackpool in 1977.
He was one of Britain’s longest serving prisoners and had previously had 11 parole bids rejected.
MailOnline can reveal that Chester was successful on this 12th parole board hearing and was quietly released on licence in ‘early 2022′.
Chester, also known as Peter Chester Speakman, had denied raping and murdering Donna Marie at the home of his sister June Gillbanks in Blackpool in October 1977.
Peter Chester – who was jailed for the rape and murder of Donna Gillbanks in 1977 – was released in ‘early 2022’
Donna Marie was raped and strangled by her uncle at her home in Blackpool
At his trial at Chester Crown Court in March 1978, the jury was told that Chester, then 22, went to his sister’s flat while drunk and while looking for the bathroom, entered his niece’s bedroom and raped and strangled her.
The married killer then placed Donna Marie back under the bed covers as though she was asleep and put her favourite cuddly toy alongside her.
Her mother found the body of her daughter the following morning.
Ms Gillbanks said: ’I walked into Donna’s room calling her a sleepy head. I shook her but she didn’t move.
‘As I pulled back the sheets I saw the strangle marks around her neck and the foam and blood mouth.
‘We rung for the doctor who told me the terrible news. I just remember collapsing in a corner. I can still feel the pain.’
Chester was found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to life with a recommended minimum term of 20 years in jail. That tariff expired in October 1997.
In 2008, Chester tried to join the electoral roll so that he could vote in the elections for the European Parliament. The Ministry of Justice said he could not until the law was changed.
He took the government to court, with his case dismissed by the Administrative Court in October 2009 and again by the Court of Appeal in November 2010.
In 2013, his lawyers argued in the Supreme Court that the UK’s ban on prisoners voting breached his human rights and EU law.
The legal reviews caused an outcry when it emerged that he had been given tens of thousands of pounds in legal aid.
The Legal Aid Agency said at the time: ‘Peter Chester was only granted legal aid after the Supreme Court gave permission for his case to be heard.
‘Anyone who applies for legal aid must pass strict financial means and legal merits tests.
‘The funding is being managed by a specialist team to ensure costs are carefully controlled.’
A Scottish killer, George McGeoch from Glasgow, also demanded voting rights in the same case.
Seven Supreme Court justices conducted a two-day hearing, before dismissing their appeals.
Handing down the decision, Lord Mance said that in relation to both appellants’ claims under EU law: ‘Eligibility to vote in member states is basically a matter for national legislatures.’
David Cameron, then prime minister, tweeted that he agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision
David Cameron, prime minister at the time, welcomed the unanimous supreme court decision.
He tweeted: ‘The supreme court judgment on prisoner voting is a great victory for common sense.’
When details of the case first emerged, Ms Gillbanks said: ‘He gave up the right to vote when he strangled and raped my daughter. Prisoners have enough rights and victims very little.’
Chester had served 25 years over his minimum term when he was granted his freedom in 2022.
His earlier parole hearings had repeatedly reported that he had struggled to show empathy or remorse and had been reluctant to engage in sex offender treatment programmes.
In his sixth review in September 2008, the Parole Board found that there was ‘no substantial discernible indication of a reduction in risk, and his risk factors had not been addressed.’
Up until last year, the Parole Board had concluded that the risk Chester posed was still too high for him to be granted parole.
Ms Gillbanks spent years campaigning for child killers to be kept in jail under the banner ‘make sure life means life.’
In 2008 she told the Blackpool Gazette: ‘Life should mean life. Small prison sentences are no deterrent.’
She added: ‘Donna was my world. But now I’ve got my strength back. I’m fed up with all those innocent children getting murdered, strangled and raped.’
Ms Gillbanks concluded: ‘I will fight to my dying breath to keep him behind bars and make sure that all the others serve the proper sentences.’
A Parole Board spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We can confirm that a panel of the Parole Board has directed the release of Peter Chester following an oral hearing in October 2021.
‘Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public if released and whether that risk is manageable in the community.
‘A panel will carefully examine a huge range of evidence, including details of the original crime, and any evidence of behaviour change, as well as explore the harm done and impact the crime has had on the victims.
‘Members read and digest hundreds of pages of evidence and reports in the lead up to an oral hearing.
‘Evidence from witnesses such as probation officers, psychiatrists and psychologists, officials supervising the offender in prison as well as victim personal statements may be given at the hearing.
‘It is standard for the prisoner and witnesses to be questioned at length during the hearing which often lasts a full day or more.
‘Parole reviews are undertaken thoroughly and with extreme care. Protecting the public is our number one priority.’
Under changes to prisoner voting rights incorporated into UK law in 2017, limited categories of inmates were given the right to vote at various UK elections.
These categories include unconvicted, unsentenced and civil prisoners who can vote postally or by proxy, prisoners on temporary release or home detention curfew who can vote when outside of prison, and people serving sentences of up to one year in Scotland who can vote in devolved and local elections.
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