Father’s joy as knife killer’s release from prison blocked

JUSTICE Secretary Chris Grayling has blocked plans for the early release of a foreign criminal who stabbed a have-a-go hero to death outside a village pub in Yorkshire.

Leroy Griffith. Below: Mark Webster

Mark Webster, 21, died instantly when he was knifed in the chest by Leroy Griffith while going to the aid of a woman he was threatening outside The Fleece in Addingham, near Ilkley, in the early hours of April 1, 2002.

Griffith was jailed for life for murder in December that year and told he must serve a minimum of 14 years, but last month the Parole Board recommended he be transferred to a Category D “open” prison as a precursor to periodic release on licence – a move Mr Webster’s family has been campaigning against.

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The Ministry of Justice declined to say whether Mr Grayling’s intervention signalled a new get-tough approach on foreign criminals, but a source close to the process described it as “rare”.

Mark Webster

Mr Webster’s father Tim said he was delighted by the decision, but said his battle was not over. It is understood that Griffith has no right to appeal against Mr Grayling’s decision, but may be eligible for another bid for parole in October 2014.

Mr Webster, 57, said: “The Victim Support officer said ‘I’ve never heard of this happening before, ever’.

“I’m obviously thrilled to bits, for now, because we’ve got to go through it all again the next time he applies for parole.”

The businessman attended the parole board hearing in August and made an emotional plea for Griffith not to be released early, describing in harrowing detail the impact of his son’s killing on his family.

“I had never seen my father cry before that day,” he told the hearing. “I have now, and still over 11 years after at the age of 83 he still cannot talk about his grandson Mark without tears.”

Mr Webster, who said he remains determined to see Griffith serve out his full sentence behind bars, has been supported in his campaign by Kris Hopkins, the Conservative MP for Keighley and Ilkley.

Mr Hopkins said: “I’m really pleased for Tim and his family because they wanted justice to be delivered. He made a very passionate presentation to the parole board; I met them last week and I know they were really pleased about having the opportunity to do that. I think being part of the process and being able to influence it was really important to them.

“I’m delighted that Chris Grayling has been able to do that because sometimes you need to make really bold moves to protect people in our communities.”

The Parole Board confirmed a recommendation to transfer Griffith to an open prison was made in September.

A spokesman added: “When we recommend transfer to open conditions it’s still up to the Secretary of State for Justice, who is perfectly entitled to go against our decision. It’s much more likely our recommendation will be accepted, but it’s not the case that’s it’s always accepted.”

Griffith, who worked as a chef, is originally from Barbados and moved to Yorkshire in 1999.

It is thought that if he had been let out early plans were being put in place to restrict him to an “exclusion zone” in West Yorkshire, barring him from coming within about three miles of where the Websters live and work.

Mr Webster’s father Tim lives in Ilkley, his mother Valerie in Addingham, while his brother Alastair lives in Menston with his children.

They had been horrified by the prospect of bumping into him.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We do not comment on individual cases. The allocation of prisoners to individual establishments is by law a matter for the Secretary of State.”

Speaking after Griffith’s trial, Det Insp Gerry O’Shea described Mr Webster, who had just completed his apprenticeship as a plumber, as “a fine young man with a promising future”. He said he had “died bravely while trying to maintain the peace”.