Family's last hope of finding truth over Hartlepool murder disappears

Released: Hassan Shatanawi

Victim: Laura May

Seeking answers: Don Vaughan

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by

A KILLER doctor has been secretly sprung from prison just weeks after Parole Board experts warned he was too dangerous to be released, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Jordanian-born Hassan Shatanawi, responsible for one of the North-East's most notorious murders, is now a free man - but nobody knows exactly where he is.

Unbeknown to his victim's family, he was escorted from jail to a UK airport and put on a plane to his Middle East homeland - but is under no supervision or control.

The Home Office last night incredibly admitted they had no idea where the wife-killer went after he got off the flight and confessed he could slip back into the country.

News of his release sparked anger among the relatives of Shatanawi's victim - trainee travel agent Laura May, whose body has never been found since the 1993 killing.

Her brother, Don Vaughan, from Hartlepool, said his family was "appalled and disgusted" at learning the murderer had been freed from his life sentence without warning.

They had clung to the hope that Shatanawi would be caged until he revealed what had happened to Laura May, 36 - but fear he will now take his secret to the grave.

Shatanawi, now 67, was jailed for life in 1994 for murdering his wife after tiny traces of her blood and hair were found in an allotment shed he had tried to destroy.

After a five-week trial in which jurors heard about groundbreaking DNA techniques, they rejected the killer's lies and he was given a minimum term of 16 years.

Don, 53, said last night: "We always knew the day would come when he might be released, but we hoped - and have done for nearly 20 years - to find out the truth.

"This nightmare is impossible to lay to rest when we can't lay to rest my sister. She's out there somewhere and only one person knows. Now he's free, we'll never find out."

The family was told that Shatanawi had his third parole application turned down because he was still deemed a danger - yet within three months he had been released.

Just weeks after his failed bid for freedom, the Government changed the rules and Home Secretary Teresa May had the power to override Parole Board recommendations.

Ministers have since apologised to Laura May's shattered family, and last night admitted that they should have been told earlier about the murderer's release.

Don, a dad-of-two who cares for his elderly father, said police received a memo telling them of Shatanawi being freed AFTER he had been taken from jail.

Shocked officers were initially unable to trace any of the family, but found a relative through a victim liaison officer who works for the Probation Service.

He told The Northern Echo last night that he spent the day bewildered by the news as he had been told just weeks earlier that the killer would stay behind bars.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said in a statement: "We have apologised to the family and acknowledged they should have been informed earlier.

"The local Probation Trust informed the family as soon as they became aware of the deportation and a police and probation meeting was held with the family to discuss their concerns.

"The Government believes that foreign national offenders who have no right to remain in the UK should be deported at the earliest opportunity.

"New powers mean foreign prisoners serving indeterminate sentences can be considered for removal as soon as they have completed the compulsory part of their sentence."

Don, who was speaking on behalf of the family, said: "The police got an email telling them that he had been released - but that was after the horse had bolted.

"The officer who came to see us was as shocked as we were. He told us 'this sort of thing just doesn't happen'. In all the years he has served, this was a first."

A retired senior detective, who worked on the case two decades ago, said: "It is dreadful that the family was kept in the dark about the plans for his release.

"They have been through so much and desperately hoped that one day this man would find it within himself to ease their pain by revealing where Laura May's body is.

"That hope may now be gone forever because he's now a free man. He has no reason to give up that secret. It should have been a condition of his release."

Iris Ryder, a community crimefighter in Hartlepool, who has worked on behalf of the family, said: "Why were the Parole Board's findings simply ignored?

"The worst aspect of this case is that they had the understanding to say this man was still a danger to the public, and the Government has just taken no notice."

Don said: "I have never believed in the death penalty, but I firmly believe in a 'life' sentence. I think if you take a life, you should spend a life in jail.

"My sister is still out there somewhere and somebody knows about it. We all want to know where she is. The only key to this is that man, and now he has gone.

"The family is appalled and disgusted by what has happened, and feels let down by the politicians who are supposed to support and help people like ourselves."

Cleveland Police last night confirmed they got an email from the Prison Intelligence Notification System informing them of Shatanawi's release the day he was freed.

A source said forces are often given up to three months' notice of an inmate's parole, and added: "To be informed on the same day is unheard of."

A probation source said: "Dangerous offenders like this man are monitored closely when they released in the UK. That will not be the case here.

"Here, a murderer would be on licence recall for life, but there will be no such safeguards in this case and that would certainly be a major worry.

"It might be that any potential problems have been removed from these shores - until he appeals to be allowed back into the UK - but that's not the point."

The Home Office said: "He would have been escorted throughout the deportation process, and would have been met by Jordanian authorities at passport control.

"After that, the UK haven't further involvement in the case. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office are notified, but we have no more involvement."

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: “We are absolutely determined that any foreign national who fails to abide by our laws should face the consequences.

"We deported this individual as soon as he had completed his sentence. In 2011, we deported more than 4,600 foreign criminals.”

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