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Man jailed for 1986 'Fordingbridge mansion massacre' applies for release

George Stephenson in 1987
George Stephenson in 1987

A HANDYMAN convicted of rape, robbery and the murder of four family members in a case dubbed “the Fordingbridge mansion massacre” has applied to the Parole Board for release.

George Stephenson has spent more than 33 years in prison since 1987 when he was found guilty after a trial at Winchester Crown Court of being part of a horrific incident in which a total of five people were variously burned alive and strangled at Burgate House.

At the time, the judge recommended that Stephenson – who was 36 – should spend at least 25 years in prison before he could bid for release.

But when that term expired in 2001 the then Home Secretary Jack Straw said the crimes were so bad he upped the minimum time behind bars to 35 years.

In 2008 Stephenson was refused a request to put it back to the original 25 years.

This month is now the earliest point Stephenson can apply for parole, ahead of his 2023 release date.

Confirming Stephenson had applied, a Parole Board spokesperson told the A&T the case will be “following standard processes”.

He added: “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.”

Were Stephenson to be released, he would be placed on a perpetual life licence, meaning he would be sent straight back to prison if he did anything wrong.

Stephenson, originally from Coventry, was sent down with two other men, brothers John and George Daly, after the Cleavers and their live-in-nurse, Margaret Murphy, were killed at Burgate House on 1st September 1986.

An A&T report from 24th May 2008 of George Stephenson's previous bid for release
An A&T report from 24th May 2008 of George Stephenson's previous bid for release

The fatal raid interrupted a dinner party between Joseph Cleaver (82), who was a wealthy, reclusive, retired director of a publishing company; his disabled wife, Hilda, also 82; son Thomas (49); daughter-in-law Wendy (46); and the nurse, Margaret (70).

Joseph, Hilda, Thomas and Margaret were bound and gagged in an upstairs room where petrol was poured over them, and they were set alight while still alive.

Wendy was taken to another bedroom and repeatedly raped before she was strangled to death.

Stephenson had worked as a handyman at the house with his wife of 10 months, Fiona, but was sacked after he hit her in repeated rows three weeks before the killings.

Armed with pick-axe handles, stocking masks and rubber gloves, he and the Daly brothers made off after the raid with shotguns, a .22 rifle and electrical items.

Stephenson went on the run and Hampshire police launched their largest manhunt to find him.

He gave himself up two days later at Roundhills campsite in Brockenhurst, after travelling down from Coventry, drinking at the Foresters Arms and smoking pot with two nurses on a camping holiday.

During the trial, Stephenson was described as the leader of the three-man gang. He denied committing the murders and tried to blame the Daly brothers.

They claimed to have been under the impression the gang would rob the house but not kill anyone.

After deliberating for nine hours, jurors unanimously found Stephenson guilty of four of the murders, rape and robbery.

John Daly, who admitted rape and robbery, was found guilty of murdering all five. George Daly, who had admitted rape and robbery matters from the outset, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Joseph, Hilda and Thomas.

Sentencing, Stephenson was handed six life sentences and John Daly seven. George Daly was given 22 years.

The judge, Mr Justice Hobhouse, branded the crimes as acts of indescribable brutality and cruelty.

After the case concluded, Burgate House was demolished.

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