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Sophie Lancaster's killer declared 'suitable for release' after 14 years in jail

Sophie Lancaster
(Image credit: Sophie Lancaster Foundation)

Sophie Lancaster's killer Ryan Herbert will leave prison this year after being declared "suitable for release" by the Parole Board.

Ryan Herbert was jailed for life in 2008 for murdering Lancaster in Stubbylee Park, in Bacup, Lancashire. Herbert, then aged 16, was part of a gang of teenage boys who savagely attacked the 20-year-old and her boyfriend Robert Maltby, then 21, on August 11, 2007 because they viewed the couple as "moshers" due to their gothic clothing, piercings and coloured hair.

Lancaster, who suffered severe head injuries in the attack, died 13 days later, while Maltby, an art student from Manchester, was left with severe brain injuries.

Five people, aged between 15 and 17, were subsequently arrested and jailed, with Herbert and his friend Brendan Harris sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge presiding over the trial described the attack as "feral thuggery" which raised questions about the "sort of society which exists in this country". 

In the wake of her daughter's murder, Sylvia Lancaster set up The Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her memory, pledging that the charity would "focus on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures in our communities. It will also work in conjunction with politicians and police forces to ensure individuals who are part of subcultures are protected by the law.”

In 2009, Bloodstock festival named its second stage in tribute to Sophie Lancaster, and the killing has subsequently inspired books, plays, and a hate crime storyline in British soap opera Coronation Street.

In court, Ryan Herbert admitted both murder and assault causing grievous bodily harm with intent and was given a minimum term of 16 years and three months, which was later reduced to 15 and a half years, and reduced again to 14 and a half years in February 2020, making him now eligible for parole.

The Parole Board' have now judged that Herbert had made "significant changes to his life which reflected his remorse, his insight and increased maturity", and declared "After considering the circumstances of his offending and examining the evidence for the progress made while in custody, the panel was satisfied that Mr Herbert was suitable for release."

A statement released by the Sophie Lancaster Foundation on behalf of Sylvia Lancaster notes that Sophie's mother is "very disappointed" by the decision.

“Once again we have a justice system that fails to deliver justice," the statement continues. "However much progress people make in prison, they have been given their sentence in recognition of the extent of their crime. The judge at the murder trial described the attack on Sophie as ‘feral’, with the attackers’ behaviour ‘savage and merciless’.

Her injuries were so severe, the paramedics attending the scene could not facially distinguish if she were male or female. How can you bear knowing the reality of the level of violence my daughter was subjected to, and stack that up against reducing the minimum tariff because they have done well in prison? However they have progressed, the minimum justice for the family is them serving the sentence they were given.

Referencing her daughter's murder, Sylvia Lancaster's statement concludes, "Her attackers may not have been given a life sentence, but I have.”

Paul Brannigan
Paul Brannigan

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.