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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Chequered career of 'human rights' convict
Dennis Stafford
Mr Stafford has to report to probation officers

Convicted murderer Dennis Stafford made headlines in a notorious North East killing in the 1960s, which inspired the film Get Carter.

Mr Stafford, 69, and his co-accused, Michael Luvaglio, were convicted of murdering fruit machine cash collector Angus Sibbett.

His bullet-filled body was found in his Jaguar car under Pesspool Bridge, South Hetton, County Durham, in January 1967.

There is a continuing campaign to clear Mr Stafford and Mr Luvaglio of the Sibbett murder, and he hopes to take his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Gaming wars

The pair were released from prison on licence in 1979 after serving 12 years.

The 1971 movie Get Carter, shot in Newcastle and starring Michael Caine, was inspired by the case, with an opening scene of the film showing a newspaper headline referring to "gaming wars".

Dennis Stafford in the 1960s
Dennis Stafford after being arrested in 1967

The prosecution in the Sibbett case said the money collector had been skimming the takings from working men's club fruit machines across the region, hence his murder.

However, Mr Stafford has always insisted he was innocent of the crime, and that a Scottish gangster was responsible for the killing.

Men on their way to work said they saw a man sitting uninjured in a Jaguar, some time after the prosecution said the killing took place.

Successful businessman

Mr Stafford's legal team have often said it would be impossible to secure a murder conviction today on the evidence produced at his trial.

After his release on licence in 1979, Mr Stafford breached the conditions by moving to South Africa.

He became a successful businessman, but returned to the UK a decade later.

Dennis Stafford in 1979
Mr Stafford was released on licence in 1979

He was arrested during a security check as he entered his hotel in London, which was being used by USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

After spending two years in prison he was released on licence once again in 1991.

In July 1994, Mr Stafford was convicted of involvement to bring forged travellers' cheques into the UK.

He was sent to prison for six years, and had his release licence revoked.

Overseas ban

After serving his tariff of three years, the Parole Board recommended in 1997 that he should be released on the grounds he posed no risk of committing violent crimes.

However Michael Howard, the then Conservative Home Secretary, and then his Labour successor Jack Straw, kept Mr Stafford in prison because they thought he may commit non-violent crimes.

Mr Stafford then brought his case to the European Court of Human Rights, after being released on licence once again.

He said: "I decided to do this even though I was released and it wouldn't affect me. I wanted to expose how politicians manipulate the system.

Dennis Stafford
Mr Stafford was convicted of Angus Sibbett's murder

"Judges should be the deciding factor on sentencing, and the Parole Board, without pressure from politicians, who are swayed by votes."

He is now out of prison, but remains on licence, cannot travel abroad, and has to remain in constant touch with social workers.

Since being released in 1979, his co-accused in the Sibbett case, Michael Luvaglio, has gone on to become a charity worker in London.

Mr Stafford, of Stanhope Castle, Stanhope, Weardale, had been challenging the right of the Home Secretary to keep him, and other prisoners given mandatory life sentences, in jail.

Legal costs

On Tuesday the court in Strasbourg ruled he Home Secretary had breached Mr Stafford's human rights by keeping him in jail longer than recommended by the Parole Board.

It ordered that he should be paid 10,500 damages and 17,865 legal costs and expenses.

In a move with widespread legal ramifications, the decision in Strasbourg could signal moves on the part of prisoners on 'full-life tariffs', such as Myra Hindley, to seek their freedom.

Mr Stafford's lawyer, Michael Purdon, said the ruling would have a huge impact.

He said: "This decision should bring us into line with the rest of Europe, where judges do the sentencing and politicians stick to politics."

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28 May 02 | UK
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