A paedophile who raped a nine-year-old girl before throwing her body into a river is set to be released from prison following a parole hearing – leaving the little girl’s family furious.
John O’Shaughnessy admitted to raping Kaleigh Ward before strangling her with his belt on the banks of the River Dee in 1996.
He threw Kayleigh’s body into the water, and it washed up almost two months later.
O’Shaughnessy was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1997, with a minimum term of 30 years. But the Parole Board has now confirmed it has directed the killer’s release from prison following a parole hearing.
The victim’s family said they understood he would not be eligible for release until 2027.
Paedophile John O’Shaughnessy is set to be released from prison despite admitting to the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 1997
Kaleigh Ward, whose family says the justice system is ‘wrong’ to release O’Shaughnessy before he serves his minimum sentence of 30 years
In a public statement on Facebook on Monday, Kayleigh’s family criticised the justice system and said they were desperately trying to get help in appealing against the decision.
They wrote: ‘The justice system is wrong. Life should mean life. We have three weeks in which to appeal this decision.
‘This monster knew what he was doing. I’m disturbed by the thought of him gaining his freedom.
‘He’s going to be out there. To all parents please be aware! We the family of Kayleigh are serving the life sentence.
‘She will stay in our hearts and thoughts forever.’
The Parole Board confirmed O’Shaughnessy was set to be released, and explained that decisions were based on the potential risk a prisoner could pose to the public.
A spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that a panel of the Parole Board has directed the release of John O’Shaughnessy following an oral hearing.
‘Parole Board decisions are solely focused on what risk a prisoner could represent to the public if released and whether that risk is manageable in the community.
‘A panel will carefully examine a huge range of evidence, including details of the original crime, and any evidence of behaviour change, as well as explore the harm done and impact the crime has had on the victims.
‘Members read and digest hundreds of pages of evidence and reports in the lead-up to an oral hearing.
‘Evidence from witnesses such as probation officers, psychiatrists and psychologists, officials supervising the offender in prison as well as victim personal statements may be given at the hearing.
‘It is standard for the prisoner and witnesses to be questioned at length during the hearing, which often lasts a full day or more. Parole reviews are undertaken thoroughly and with extreme care. Protecting the public is our number one priority.’
Last summer, it was believed O’Shaughnessy could be released in a matter of months after he won his freedom in a parole hearing despite admitting to committing an act that shocked the nation.
O’Shaughnessy, then 31, befriended Kayleigh when he and her family were living in the same homeless hostel in Chester.
She was last seen leaving the Blacon hostel in Lorne Street, Chester, to buy chips on December 19, 1996.
Her body was found by a man walking his dog on the banks of the River Dee.
In December 1997, O’Shaughnessy admitted raping and killing Kayleigh at Mold Crown Court, North Wales.
Kayleigh Ward, who was persuaded by paedophile O’Shaughnessy to take a walk with him by a river in Chester as she was returning to her parents with a bag of chips
Kayleigh had lived at the hostel with her mum and sister since her family had been evicted from their council house for rent arrears.
The court was told O’Shaughnessy was a ‘drifter and shifter’ who hung around the pubs.
He had arrived at the hostel a few months before Kayleigh with his pregnant girlfriend and her three children from a previous relationship.
O’Shaughnessy met his victim on the way back from the chip shop and persuaded her to take a walk by the River Dee.
He then fell upon Kayleigh, who was barely 4ft tall, and raped her.
The killer said his victim sobbed: ‘I’ll tell my mum, I’ll tell my mum.’
O’Shaughnessy was one of the most zealous in the search party when Kayleigh didn’t return to the hostel.
He was interviewed several times by the police but denied any involvement until her body was recovered on February 10, 1997.
O’Shaughnessy then made a midnight call to police to say: ‘I killed Kayleigh Ward.’
The court was told that when police asked him why he had killed Kayleigh after raping her, O’Shaughnessy replied: ‘Because she was bound to have told people what I had done. It was the easiest way out of it.’
Sentencing O’Shaughnessy, Mr Justice Maurice Kay told him: ‘It is difficult to imagine anything more depraved, cruel and cowardly than that.’
He added: ‘There is no crime more horrific than the murder of a child.
‘What you did to Kayleigh Ward was unspeakable.’