'Wicked man' jailed for 1986 Fordingbridge murders should never be released, say former detectives

A man jailed for the 1986 murder of five people at a home in Hampshire should never be let out of prison, according to the former detectives who investigated him.

Retired police officers have told ITV News Meridian that George Stephenson, who killed four members of the Cleaver family and their nurse at their Fordingbridge home, is a "wicked man" who "will never change."

Their comments come as Stephenson, who is serving a life sentence for the crime, has now applied again for parole.

The Parole Board says it will consider "a whole range of evidence" when considering his case, but no hearing date has been set.

  • The Fordingbridge Murders: What happened?

The trio attempted to burn down the family home after they'd killed the family.

Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda, son Tom and his wife Wendy and the family nurse Margaret Murphy were sitting down to dinner at their home in Fordingbridge on 1 September 1986.

George Stephenson, along with brothers John and George Daley, broke into Burgate House armed with a gun and pick axe handles.

All of them were bound and gagged by the raiders, who then set about searching the house to make off with any valuables.

All three men then raped Wendy, before she was strangled to death.

The other victims were doused in petrol and the house was set on fire.

George Stephenson fled back to his native Coventry, but the media frenzy was too great and he gave himself up to police.

  • "Callous, cold blooded arrangements and preparation"

Thirty five years later, the events of that night are still fresh in the mind of one of the police officers in charge of the murder investigation. 

Retired Detective Chief Inspector Keith White, who went on to work for intelligence agencies such as MI5, said he was "absolutely" still as shocked by the crime now as when he first investigated it.

"When I consider what went on in the terrorist world," he said, "there's nothing worse than that.

"But if you come down to the callous, cold blooded arrangements and preparation that George Stephenson did with regard to this particular crime, there can be nothing worse." 

  • Media frenzy meant Stephenson "couldn't hide"

The killings caused a national outrage which was widely reported throughout the country.

David Hanna, who is now a retired Detective Superintendent, was in charge of briefing the press.

He said the media attention played a "hugely significant role."

"Stephenson actually lived in Coventry at the time and he saw himself on television and in the newspapers.

"As a result of that he knew he couldn't hide anywhere purely because the publicity was signifcant. 

"So he rang and said he was going to come down and give his account of things."

  • "A wicked man...I don't think he'll ever change"

The Cleaver family home has long since been demolished.

Stephenson was sentenced to 25 years in prison in October 1987.

But this was extended by another ten years in 2001 by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw.

That means his sentence is due to end in 2023, with this year the earliest he can apply for parole.

But the former detectives who worked the case are clear - they think he should never be released.

"I doubt you'd find a police officer in Hampshire who served at that time that would ever think that George Stephenson should ever be paroled," said David Hanna.

Kevin White added: "To have done what he, did for me, he's such a wicked man I don't think he will ever change." 

The decision on Stephenson's application is now up to the Parole Board - but a date for any hearing hasn't been set.

A Parole Board spokesman said: “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.”