Killer John Cannan who dumped the body of Shirley Banks on the Quantock Hills 35 years ago could be freed from prison once his parole hearing is relisted.

The Parole Board has confirmed the 69-year-old convicted sex attacker's scheduled parole hearing was adjourned and has yet to be relisted.

Once the hearing is rearranged, a parole panel will consider the case for Cannan's early release. A decision as to whether Cannan can go free will be issued within 14 days of that hearing.

An historic picture of killer John Cannan
An historic picture of killer John Cannan (File photo)

Cannan was convicted in 1988 of murder, multiple sexual offences, abductions and attempted abductions and was sentenced to three life sentences.

He is serving his sentence at Full Sutton Prison in York, from where he continues to protest his innocence.

The abduction and murder of Shirley Banks

On October 8, 1987, Cannan abducted Shirley Banks, a newlywed 29-year-old factory manager from Clifton. The police investigation that followed involved 150 officers and more than 140,000 hours of investigation work. Cannan, who lived in Bristol, was arrested 11 days after Ms Bank's disappearance, for a knife assault in the Midlands.

After searching Cannan's car, police discovered personal effects belonging to Ms Banks. Following forensic investigations and witness testimony, Cannan was arrested for her murder in December 1987.

Ms Bank's decomposed body was discovered six months later on the Quantock Hills in an area known as Dead Woman's Ditch.

A 1987 BBC Crimewatch programme reconstructed the events of the newly-wed's disappearance. She had planned to meet her husband for a drink. When she failed to arrive, Richard Banks searched for her at a local bar before returning home to wait.

The following day he called his wife's workplace and was told she had called in sick with an 'upset tummy'.

Detective Inspector Terry Jones of Avon and Somerset Police began work on the case on the Monday after Ms Banks' disappearance. He recalled: “The enquiry got off to a fast rate of knots right from the outset.” As a result, Mr Banks was quickly ruled out as a potential suspect.

The day before then abduction, there had been an attempted kidnapping in Cannan's Marsh in Bristol. A man had tried to take a woman from a car at gunpoint.

It has since been speculated that the site of the attempted abduction - Cannan's namesake - was chosen by the killer as part of a twisted game.

A BBC Crimewatch reconstruction of an attempted abduction at Cannan Marsh
A BBC Crimewatch reconstruction of an attempted abduction at Cannan Marsh (Crimewatch)

Police soon linked the attempted abduction and Ms Banks' disappearance. However, before the reconstructions of the events at Cannan's Marsh could be televised, John Cannan was arrested in the Midlands for an unrelated knife assault.

Detectives held out hope that Ms Banks could yet be recovered alive. Avon and Somerset Detective Chief Inspector Bryan Saunders said: “There was a possibility that Shirley had been kept captive somewhere with enough food or what have you, and was still alive. We had to take one last chance and go to the public and say have you seen this man?”

With Cannan already in custody, police appealed for anyone who had seen, done business with or otherwise interacted with Cannan to come forward.

But it was forensic evidence that would prove instrumental in securing his conviction. Paul Jobbins of the South West Regional Finger Prints Bureau said: “Detectives took impressions from articles in locations where Shirley had been.

“We compared all those impressions and eventually built up a composite set of what we believed were Shirley Banks' fingerprints.”

After weeks of searching, the police found Ms Banks' thumbprint on a document in a flat belonging to Cannan.

DCI Saunders said: “Here we had a man telling me for ten days he'd never seen Shirley Banks and we had a fingerprint in the flat saying she'd been there. It was tremendous.”

A Crimewatch reconstruction of a police interview with Cannan, in which  Inspector Bryan Saunders plays himself.
A Crimewatch reconstruction of a police interview with Cannan, in which Inspector Bryan Saunders plays himself. (Crimewatch)

Police produced the document on which Ms Banks' fingerprint had been detected. They put it to Cannan who confirmed that document had never left his flat. It was clear - ultimately beyond all reasonable doubt - she had been at his property.

Speaking after Cannan was jailed DCI Saunders said: “The jury has found this man to be a kidnapper, rapist and murderer, and that's my judgement of him also.

“Our inquiries showed him to have led a dual life; he could be charming and polite on the one hand and yet evil and malevolent on the other.”

Ms Bank's mother, Liz Reynolds, recalled how the community rallied around to support the family. She said: “Lots of people did lots of things to help us, but I suppose the biggest thing which they did was just support us with their love because that was all they could do.”

On Easter Sunday, 1988, a woman who was out gathering moss discovered Ms Banks' body on the Quantock Hills. The coroner found she had been beaten about the head.

The 'House for Sale Rapist'

Police suspect Cannan of committing many more crimes for which he was never convicted. In the 1970s through to 1980, he has been linked 20 sexual assaults and rapes across the West Midlands.

The series of crimes were carried out by an offender who was never caught, dubbed the 'House for Sale Rapist' - so-called due to targeting of women selling their houses.

The assaults came to an end in 1980, the year that Cannan married Sharon Major. The proximity of the assaults to Cannan's West Midlands' address have led some to think Cannan and the House for Sale Rapist are the same person.

A 2002 documentary by Channel 5 revealed police detectives believed the sex attacks bore all the hallmarks of Cannan's later crimes.

Who killed Suzy Lamplugh?

Estate Agent Suzy Lamplugh went missing in 1986 after failing to return from an appointment with a man calling himself Mr Kipper. Suzy was declared dead in 1993, but her body was never found.

Cannan was suspected but never convicted of killing 25-year-old Suzy. A 1987 review of the case found multiple failings by the initial investigation, including neglecting to challenge Cannan's alibi or stand him on an identity parade.

The report, by DCS Barry Webb, noted: “A more positive approach from the senior investigating officer [SIO] regarding Cannan’s status as a genuine suspect could have resolved whether he was responsible for Suzy’s murder.

“Unfortunately the SIO appears to have been prejudiced against this course of action primarily because he believed Cannan had come into the MIR [murder incident room] as a suspect from Diana Lamplugh. This resulted in the SIO specifically stating that Cannan was not to be treated as a suspect.

“As a result only limited actions were undertaken and a non-challenging interview strategy adopted.”

In 2002 the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Cannan with the killing. Cannan's lawyers criticised Metropolitan Police detectives for naming Cannan as the 'only suspect' in spite of the charging decision.

A lawyer for Cannan said his client was "absolutely devastated. He is particularly distressed at... the inference that he could at least have the decency to tell the Lamplugh family where Suzy's body is buried.

"John Cannan is not playing mind games. He cannot tell the Lamplugh family where their daughter is buried because he did not kill her."

In 2006 Cannan lodged appeals against his whole life tariff on the basis of human rights legislation. Police were confident enough in Cannan's involvement to stage an unprecedented intervention.

Suzy Lamplugh has been missing since 28 July 1986, and was declared legally dead on 27 July 1993
Suzy Lamplugh has been missing since 28 July 1986, and was declared legally dead on 27 July 1993 (Metropolitan Police)

Detective superintendent Jim Dickie, said at the time: "Evidence suggests he was monitoring her [Suzy Lamplugh] before she was abducted. He certainly knew the area. He would have sought out a woman like Suzy and may have contacted her and her estate agents beforehand."

Cannan's appeal was dismissed by Mr Justice Wyn Williams in a 2009 hearing at the High Court. Justice Williams said:

"I have reached the conclusion that this case must be dismissed. I should record for completeness that nothing in the research document put in by the claimant [Cannan} nor the three witness statements from fellow prisoners lead me to the view that the defendant or any other person employed within HMP Full Sutton...has acted unlawfully or in a manner breaching the claimant's human rights."

Mr Justice Wyn Williams ruling on the case Cannan v HMP Full Sutton

The search for Suzy Lamplugh

On the day of Suzy's disappearance, she had gone to meet a man identifying himself as Mr Kipper. Initial inquiries failed to turn up any solid answers to her whereabouts. The police spoke to a number of individuals, before ruling them out of their investigations.

A year on from Suzy's disappearance, detectives noticed a similarity between an artist's impression of the suspect, and by then convicted rapist John Cannan.

Cannan has since been interviewed by police on a number of occasions in connection with Suzy's disappearance.

A leaked video interview from the year 2000 shows Cannan telling detectives: “I have committed crime, I have done many things wrong in my life, thinks that believe me I am genuinely sorry for and one or two things I haven’t been caught for.”

However, Cannan has never confessed to the crime despite repeated appeals by the family and authorities in attempt to discover where her body was hidden.

Suzy's family had renewed hope her body might be found when in 2018 detectives investigated a West Midlands address formerly occupied by John Cannan's mother.

Police officers have returned to the garden of a property in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham for the fourth day in connection with the disappearance and presumed murder of Suzy Lamplugh three decades ago.
Police officers searching an address in connection with the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh seen on the fourth day of a week search. (

A team of 15 police officers and archaeologists spent two weeks digging at the site. A private firm which had taken part in the hunt for Madeleine McCann dismantled the garage and upturned paving slabs. Despite the team's efforts, no body was found.

Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Wood said at the time: “This latest line of enquiry must have been traumatic for them, as well as bringing them some hope that they might find out more about what happened to Suzy, but they have always been supportive of our efforts to make progress in the investigation.

“The case remains open, and the Met remains committed to bringing Suzy’s killer to justice.”

Who killed Sandra Court?

Police suspected Cannan of the killing of 29-year-old Sandra Court who was found dead in Dorset in 1986. Dorset Police launched a murder investigation after Sandra's body was discovered in. a ditch near Bournemouth by teenagers taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh awards.

Sandra Court went missing in Dorset in 1986
Sandra Court went missing in Dorset in 1986 (File photo)

An anonymous letter sent to police from an individual identifying themselves as the killer claimed they were "truly sorry".

A 2008 book by criminologist Christopher Berry-Dee alleged the handwriting on the letter and of John Cannan were the same. The discovery of a parking ticket also placed Cannan in the area at the time of the murder.

Cannan was interviewed as part of Dorset police's inquiries but never charged with Sandra's disappearance.

Will John Cannan be released from prison?

John Cannan was convicted at Exeter Crown Court in July 1988 by Mr Justice Drake on nine charges, including the abduction and murder of Shirley Banks and the attempted kidnapping at gunpoint of Julia Holman.

Sentencing Justice Drake told Cannan: "You are extremely attractive to some women...But under that there lies a most evil violence and horrible side to your character.

"You should never again be at liberty outside prison walls. My duties are to pass such sentences as will punish you for these monstrous crimes."

Cannan became eligible for parole in October 2022 and was reported to have attended a parole hearing in November.

John Cannan filmed a video for a dating agency in Bristol six weeks prior to his arrest for murder

A spokesperson for the Parole Board said that Cannan's oral parole hearing, scheduled for November, was adjourned, and is yet to be relisted. When Cannan comes before the panel, it could decided to set him free.

If successful in his bid to be released, Cannan could be freed under license or transferred to an open prison - a type of incarceration that imposes minimal security measures.

An open prison, otherwise known as a category D prison, allows prisoners to spend most of their day outside the site. Inmates are free to go to work, or an educational centre, before returning to the prison at night.

The parole hearing adjournment comes months after Cannan was said by the Daily Mirror to be on his deathbed in prison, suffering partial paralysis and needing a wheelchair after a stroke.

Another notorious prisoner up for release

The fresh news of Cannan's parole adjournment comes as notorious inmate Charles Bronson faces the prospect of going free from jail.

The 70-year-old is one of the UK's most notorious prisoners. Despite - perhaps because of - his violent ways, he found some fans in the country who lobby for his release.

The convicted armed robber has seen his sentence repeatedly extended owing to his behaviour behind bars.

But now Charles Bronson, who now goes by the name Charles Salvador, is set to have his bid for freedom heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in March.

In a new Channel 4 documentary, Bronson: Fit to Be Free? the convict said: "The system have labelled me for so many years untameable, untreatable, unpredictable, dangerous, blah, blah, blah. I've had every label you can think of.

"But at the end of the day, what people don't realise, since George, my son, has come into my life, I've changed and... George has got me the best legal team in the world... I'm coming home, I'm definitely coming home."

Is John Cannan still a danger to the public?

Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie warned of the dangers of releasing Cannan in 2006. He said: "Cannan will re-offend. He should never be released. If you look at his profile, I have no doubt he will strike again.

John Cannan could be freed from prison aftera parole hearing is relisted
John Cannan could be freed from prison aftera parole hearing is relisted (File photo)

"He has been released from prison before and committed crimes. He is a danger to the female population, particularly the blonde, twenty-something professionals like Suzy. Even if he wasn't released until he was 60 he would go on to abduct, rape and murder women."

Jim Dickie renewed his warning as Cannan became eligible for parole, telling the Daily Mirror newspaper: "The Parole Board would be taking a big risk if they clear Cannan for release back into the community. If he gets the opportunity to offend again he will take it. He has a horrendous profile of offending over 40 years.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust

Suzy was survived by her parents Paul and Diana who went on to found the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in her name. Both parents have died since founding the charity in 1986 - but not before being awarded OBEs for their charitable works.

The trust works to reduce the risk of violence and aggression through campaigning, education and support. The charity say its work has been instrumental in a number of changes to the statute books, including the Protection from Harassment Act and the Protection of Freedom Act.