A REQUEST from victims for a public parole hearing for a handyman who murdered four people at a country house to be held in public has been rejected.

George Francis Stephenson received a mandatory life sentence in 1987 after he was convicted of murdering two men and two women, raping another woman and robbery.

The crimes committed at Burgate House in Fordingbridge in September 1986 saw Stephenson kill Joseph Cleaver, his disabled wife Hilda Cleaver, their son Tom Cleaver and family nurse Margaret Murphy.

He was cleared of murdering Tom Cleaver's wife, Wendy, but one of his co-defendants was convicted of the killing.

Stephenson became eligible for parole in 2021 after completing his minimum term of 35 years’ imprisonment.

Bournemouth Echo: George Francis StephensonGeorge Francis Stephenson

The Parole Board began an oral hearing in May last year but it has since been adjourned with dates to be fixed.

In February of this year, an application was received from the victim liaison officer on behalf of the victims for the hearing to be held in public.

This request was supported by justice secretary Dominic Raab, however, it was opposed by 71-year-old Stephenson, who made submissions through his legal representative.

Parole Board chair Caroline Corby said the victims in the case had her deepest sympathies.

In a report on her decision to refuse their request, she said: “In this case the applicant, representing the victims, has made strong arguments for a public hearing including the grave nature of Mr Stephenson’s offences, the terrible impact for the victims to lose four family members and a family friend in shocking circumstances, the ongoing suffering of the victims and their desire to see justice done, the potential benefits to the victims of being able to attend the hearing.”

Ms Corby said a “high bar” had been set for public hearings to be in the interests of justice and she had concluded it was not met in Stephenson’s case.

Bournemouth Echo: Burgate HouseBurgate House

She said the rule to allow public hearings did not come into effect until after the hearing in May last year when Stephenson gave more than three hours of evidence.

A detailed summary of the decisions made at a private oral hearing would satisfy the requirements of transparency, Ms Corby added.

Stephenson, who was 36 when he was sent down, and his co-defendants - brothers George and John Daly - were convicted after a three-week trial.

John Daly was handed a life sentence after being convicted of the same offences as Stephenson. George Daly was cleared of murder but sentenced to 22 years imprisonment for rape, robbery and manslaughter.

Dates of when Stephenson's parole hearing will resume have not been confirmed yet.

A Parole Board spokesperson said: “‘We can confirm that an application for a public hearing was made in the case of George Stephenson, in accordance with the amended Parole Board Rules of July 2022.

“The chair of the Parole Board in this circumstance seeks representations from the other party and then makes her decision based on various criteria which is published on our website. In this case, the chair has refused the application for the public hearing.

“The written decision outlines the reasons for this and is also available on our website.”