A HANDYMAN who murdered four people at a country house in Fordingbridge is to have his life sentence reviewed - which could see him set free.

A parole review for George Francis Stephenson has been referred to the Parole Board.

Stephenson was found guilty in October 1987 of murdering Joseph Cleaver, his disabled wife Hilda, their son Tom and the family nurse, Margaret Murphy.

What happened?

The killings happened in September 1986 at Burgate House in Fordingbridge, where Stephenson had worked until August of that year when he was dismissed.

He then hatched a plot to steal guns and ammunition from Burgate House, which was subsequently demolished, and use them in a wages snatch.

On September 1, he returned with two other men and broke in.

Armed with a gun and pickaxe handles, Stephenson and his accomplices burst into the house while the Cleavers and Mrs Murphy were having dinner.

The victims were forced upstairs where they were bound and gagged.

After the murder of Wendy Cleaver, the gang killed the other four victims by dousing them in petrol and setting them alight.

Life sentence

Stephenson and his co-defendants - brothers George and John Daly - were convicted after a three-week trial in October 1987.

Stephenson received six life sentences for murder, rape and robbery.

John Daly was handed seven life sentences after being convicted of the same offences.

George Daly was cleared of murder but sentenced to 22 years for rape, robbery and manslaughter.

Stephenson was acquitted of murdering Wendy Cleaver, although a co-accused was convicted.

The trial judge ruled that Stephenson should serve 25 years before being considered for parole.

Why is there a chance Stephenson could be released?

In May 2001, the tariff - the minimum number of years he must spend behind bars before being considered for parole - was increased to 35 years by then Home Secretary Jack Straw.

This took the sentence up to 2021 before it could be reviewed.

In 2008, Stephenson sought to have this term changed to 25 years.

But this was rejected by High Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat, who described the murders as “sadistic”, adding that Stephenson had attacked three people who were vulnerable because of age and disability, and the attack had involved premeditation.

What the Parole Board say now

A Parole Board spokesman said: “We can confirm the parole review of George Stephenson has been referred to the Parole Board and is following standard processes.

“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.

“The panel will carefully examine a whole range of evidence, including details of the original crime, and any evidence of behaviour change, as well as understand the harm done and impact the crime has had on the victims.

“Parole reviews are undertaken thoroughly and with extreme care. Protecting the public is our number one priority.”

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