He did not. After serving 17 years of a life sentence, a reflection of the crime’s seriousness and the threat that he posed, he killed again after just 18 months freedom when he stabbed grandfather John Gogarty 69 times as he, and his then-girlfriend, robbed the OAP to pay off a drug debt.
Now, in the latest insult, findings of a Ministry of Justice inquiry into Birley’s original release from prison has been suppressed. The reason? It contains “personal data” and the MoJ’s misguided view is that “releasing the requested information into the public domain would be unlawful”.
It remains to be seen whether Justice Secretary David Gauke concurs with his department’s response to The Yorkshire Post’s Freedom of Information request – and how he intends to justify this stance to the heartbroken family of Mr Gogarty who simply want to learn the truth.
As his daughter Nicola says: “My four-year-old and two-year-old ask me most days when is Grandad John coming down from the stars because they miss him and want to go and see him.”
What is Mr Gauke’s message to them? Taken at face value, it can only be assumed that the Lord Chancellor’s department is misapplying the law in order to spare the Probation Service, and Parole Board, from public scrutiny unless he can provide telling evidence to the contrary.
However, other important principles are at stake. The judicial system’s support of victims; how a violent killer was able to reoffend four miles from the scene of the original murder and the use of data protection laws.
Those evolving laws have never had a greater potential to gag a free press.
If a pernicious House of Lords amendment to the Data Protection Bill is passed, newspapers like this might be dissuaded from publishing incriminating stories about convicted criminals like Ian Birley because they would run the risk of paying the legal costs of both sides if challenged in court, even if the disclosures are found to be 100 per cent accurate and in the public interest.
As such, Mr Gauke’s response to this specific case will reveal if he’s on the side of the law-abiding public and press – or murderers undeserving of protection over their “personal data”.