On 21 November 1983, a 15-year-old girl named Lynda Mann left her home in Narborough, Leicestershire, England, to visit a friend’s house and never returned. The next morning, Lynda was found raped and strangled on a deserted footpath. 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 at the time, the case was left open.
Just under three years later, on 31 July 1986, another 15-year-old girl named Dawn Ashworth, from Enderby, also in Leicestershire, took a shortcut on her route home. Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area near Ten Pound Lane. She had been beaten, raped, and strangled to death. The semen samples taken revealed that the perpetrator had the same blood type as Lynda Mann’s killer.
The prime suspect was Richard Buckland, a local 17-year-old who seemed to have knowledge of Ashworth’s body. Under interrogation, Buckland admitted to Dawn Ashworth’s murder, but said he didn’t kill Lynda Mann.
In 1986, Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester had recently developed DNA profiling along with Peter Gill and Dave Werrett of the Forensic Science Service (FSS). Using this technique, Jeffreys compared samples from both murders against a blood sample from Buckland, which conclusively proved that both girls were killed by the same man, but not Buckland. As a result, Richard Buckland became the first person to have his innocence established by DNA fingerprinting. There is little doubt that without the DNA evidence Buckland would have been convicted of the murder of Dawn Ashworth.
The Leicestershire Constabulary then conducted an investigation, gathering blood or saliva samples from 5,000 local men. This took six months and no matches were found. Later, a man named Ian Kelly was heard bragging to his friends that he had obtained £200 for giving a sample while masquerading as his friend Colin Pitchfork, a local baker. On 19 September 1987, Pitchfork was arrested at his home in the neighboring village of Littlethorpe. His recorded fingerprint DNA sample matched the killer.
Colin Pitchfork admitted to the two murders in addition to another incident of sexual assault. He is the first criminal convicted of murder based on DNA fingerprinting evidence and the first to be caught as a result of mass DNA screening.
On 14 May 2009, Pitchfork’s legal appeal was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. He won a two-year reduction in his original sentence of a minimum 30 years’ imprisonment. As a consequence, Pitchfork will now be eligible for release in 2016. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge stated, however, that “he cannot be released unless and until the safety of the public is assured.” For a child murderer, this should be never.