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Decision to Charge

Once the Police have completed their investigations, they will refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice on how to proceed. We will then make a decision on whether a suspect should be charged, and what that charge should be.

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Prosecuting Homicide

Murder and manslaughter are two of the offences that constitute homicide.

Manslaughter can be committed in one of three ways:

  1. killing with the intent for murder but where there is provocation, diminished responsibility or a suicide pact.
  2. conduct that was grossly negligent given the risk of death, and resulted in death.
  3. conduct, taking the form of an unlawful act involving a danger of some harm, that caused death.

With some exceptions, the crime of murder is committed, where a person:

  • of sound mind and discretion (i.e. sane):
  • unlawfully kills (i.e. not self-defence or other justified killing)
  • any reasonable creature (human being)
  • in being (born alive and breathing through its own lungs)
  • under the Queen's Peace
  • with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

There are other specific homicide offences, for example, infanticide, causing death by dangerous driving, and corporate manslaughter.

Find out more about prosecuting homicide

Dennis Nilsen - CPS decision about first victim


The Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision today that after careful consideration it has concluded that it is not in the public interest to prosecute Dennis Nilsen for the murder of Stephen Holmes, who disappeared in December 1978.

Last year the Metropolitan Police began a re-investigation into the disappearance of 14 year old Stephen Holmes, believed to be the first victim of Dennis Nilsen, but unidentified at the time of his trial in 1983. The re-investigation included fresh interviews with Nilsen. The CPS received an initial report from police in December 2005 and a final report following further enquiries on 24 November.

Following a thorough review of the evidence the Crown Prosecution Service has concluded that although there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Dennis Nilsen for the murder, it is not in the public interest for a prosecution now to take place.

The reviewing lawyer Rene Barclay, Director of Serious Casework in London, explained the reasons for this decision:

"In my view there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could be satisfied that Stephen was Nilsen's first victim. The factors which satisfy me that this is the case are the admissions made by Dennis Nilsen in police interviews in 1983 and, in particular, last year, the coincidence in timing and location between Stephen's disappearance and Nilsen's account of his first victim and the similarities between Nilsen's description of his first victim and Stephen Holmes' appearance.

"I have considered this case with great care. As well as considering if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Dennis Nilsen I also have a duty to decide whether it is in the public interest to do so. I have concluded that it isn't. Three factors in particular have driven me to that conclusion.

"Firstly, Dennis Nilsen is a life prisoner, serving a whole life tariff and it is clear that, if convicted of this offence, he is not going to receive any additional sentence.

"Secondly, although the original verdicts related to the 6 counts of murder and 2 counts of attempted murder on the indictment, the evidence of Nilsen's confessions to 9 non-indicted murders (including the first killing) was introduced by the prosecution at the trial to support the case against him and to reveal the extent of his criminality.

"In reviewing the existing papers about the trial I have concluded that it is very likely that the non indicted murders, including the first killing, were taken into account during the sentencing and tariff setting stages of the case.

"Thirdly, I have also taken into consideration the clear views of Stephen Holmes' family."

Mr Barclay added:

"Although Stephen's terrible murder happened many years ago, the passage of time is not a consideration which I have taken into account when concluding that it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

"The re-investigation into Stephen's disappearance, the review of the case and the conclusions the police and I have reached about how Stephen met his death shortly after he disappeared will have been a difficult and painful reminder for his family of their loss. I have written to his family explaining the decision and I would like to extend my sincere sympathy to them."

  1. Dennis Nilsen was tried on an indictment containing 8 counts; 6 counts of murder and 2 counts of attempted murder.
  2. The victim of the first killing on 28 December 1978 to which Nilsen admitted, and 8 other admitted killings, didn't form the subject matter of any count on the indictment. With one exception, the identity of each of the victims of the non indicted murders was unknown at the time of the trial. In the excepted case the victim's identity was discovered only after committal proceedings had already taken place.
  3. On 4 November 1983 the trial judge imposed concurrent life sentences on each count and made a recommendation in open court that Nilsen serve a minimum of 25 years imprisonment. This was later reconsidered in 1989 by the then Home Secretary, who determined that a whole life tariff was justified.
  4. Media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7710 6091.