Fordingbridge mansion massacre: George Stephenson applies for parole after 33 years in prison

A handyman jailed for murdering four people at the end of a dinner party has applied to the Parole Board for release after 33 years behind bars.

George Stephenson was jailed for life in 1987 for massacring the Cleaver family – who had sacked him three weeks earlier.

The horrific murders at Burgate House, a secluded mansion in Fordingbridge, Hants, on the edge of the New Forest, took place on the evening of September 1, 1986.

The killings, which shocked the nation at the time, would later become known as ‘the Fordingbridge mansion massacre’. 

Stephenson killed retired publisher Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda, both 82, and their son Tom, 47, and his wife Wendy, 46, after the family had held a dinner party.

George Stephenson (pictured), was jailed for life in 1987 for massacring the Cleaver family - who had sacked him three weeks earlier

George Stephenson (pictured), was jailed for life in 1987 for massacring the Cleaver family - who had sacked him three weeks earlier

George Stephenson (pictured), was jailed for life in 1987 for massacring the Cleaver family – who had sacked him three weeks earlier

Stephenson killed retired publisher Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda (pictured together), both 82, and their son Tom, 47, and his wife Wendy, 46

Stephenson killed retired publisher Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda (pictured together), both 82, and their son Tom, 47, and his wife Wendy, 46

Stephenson killed retired publisher Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda (pictured together), both 82, and their son Tom, 47, and his wife Wendy, 46

Life sentences in the UK: What are they?

A life sentences in the UK means a person will be subject to that sentence for the rest of their life.

But it does not necessarily mean that a person will spend their life in prison.

Under rules set by Parliament, judges must give a life sentence to all offenders found guilty of murder.

But most of the time these are set with a minimum sentence – which varies depending on the seriousness of the offence. 

This is the minimum length of time an offender must spend in prison before they can apply for parole.

However the parole process can often take years and in some cases prisoners may never be given it.

Parole officers must be sure that an offender is no longer a risk to the public. 

Even if those on a life sentence are granted parole, the offender is still subject to their life sentence and can be recalled to prison at any time. 

Life sentences are sometimes confused with whole life orders – which are rare and used in exceptional cases in the UK.

In 2017, there were thought to be around 75 prisoners in the UK serving whole life orders – including serial killer Rosemary West. 

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The following morning, two maintenance workers arrived to find the property engulfed in smoke.

Five people, including 70 year old live-in nurse Margaret Murphy, had been murdered.

All five were bound and gagged by Stephenson and his two accomplices, brothers John and George Daly.

Joseph, Hilda, Tom and Margaret were found in an upstairs room. Petrol had been 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, originally from Coventry, has spent more than 33 years in prison since 1987 when he was found guilty of murdering Mr and Mrs Cleaver, their son and Mrs Murphy. 

He was also convicted of 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.

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

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 that 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. 

The horrific murder at Burgate House, a secluded mansion in Fordingbridge, Hants, on the edge of the New Forest, took place on the evening of September 1, 1986

The horrific murder at Burgate House, a secluded mansion in Fordingbridge, Hants, on the edge of the New Forest, took place on the evening of September 1, 1986

The horrific murder at Burgate House, a secluded mansion in Fordingbridge, Hants, on the edge of the New Forest, took place on the evening of September 1, 1986

A Parole Board spokesperson 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.’

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