Life sentences are a punishment rarely given in courts.

The punishment is reserved for the most serious criminals.

By law, anyone convicted of murder must be given a life sentence. Typically, they will be given a ‘tariff’ – the number of years they must serve behind bars before they can be released on parole.

Only the most serious murderers, usually serial killers, perverts or ideologically-driven terrorists, will receive a ‘whole life order’ meaning they will never be released.

Judges can impose discretionary life sentences for certain offences, like rape, robbery, attempted murder or perverting the course of justice, where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

This week Ali Harbi Ali was handed a whole life term for the murder of MP Sir David Amess. 

We look back at the life sentences imposed on people with Essex connections.

Ali Harbi Ali

Thurrock Gazette:

The homegrown terrorist who murdered veteran MP Sir David Amess in a warped retaliation against politicians who voted to bomb Syria will die in jail after being handed a whole-life prison term.

Unrepentant Ali Harbi Ali pursed his lips briefly but otherwise showed little emotion as Mr Justice Sweeney handed down his sentence at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

It means he joins a handful of prisoners who will never be released from prison.

The judge told 26-year-old Ali: “The defendant has no remorse or shame for what he has done – quite the reverse.

“This is a murder that struck at the heart of democracy.”

The so-called Islamic State fanatic carried out his attack at the backbench Conservative MP’s constituency surgery in Leigh, on October 15 last year.

Jeremy Bamber

Thurrock Gazette:

Nevill and June Bamber, both 61, Sheila Caffell, 26, and her six-year-old twins Daniel and Nicholas all died in the massacre at White house Farm in Tolleshunt D'Arcy in 1985.

Essex Police initially believed that Sheila, who had mental health problems, had murdered her own family before turning the gun on herself.

Eventually it was Jeremy who was charged and convicted of the murders of his own parents, sister and nephews.

Bamber is currently serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Bamber still maintains his innocence.

Anthony Ayres

Thurrock Gazette:

Anthony Ayres murdered Canvey mum Kelly Pearce, 36, during a sickening assault in Fairlop Avenue, Canvey, in November 2015.

The alcoholic builder denied killing Kelly and stood trial at Chelmsford Crown Court Jurors delivered a unanimous guilty verdict after hearing Ayres had already served an 18-year prison sentence for strangling his girlfriend Dawn Wisdom in 1993.

He went on to murder Kelly by stabbing her in the face and neck more than 40 times and splitting her skull with a hammer.

At sentencing, Justice Maura McGowan told Ayres he would never be released.

Stephen Port

Thurrock Gazette:

Serial killer Port was given a whole-life sentence in 2016 after he drugged, raped and killed four gay men in east London he had met on the gay dating app Grindr.

Mr Walgate, 23, Mr Kovari, 22, Mr Whitworth, 21, and Mr Taylor, 25, were all murdered during a 16-month period between June 2014 and September 2015.

Port, now 46, a former escort and bus depot chef, will die behind bars after being given a whole-life jail sentence for the crimes.

Port, who was born in Southend, was also convicted of raping four others.

Steve Wright

Thurrock Gazette:

Wright was jailed for life in 2008 after being found guilty of murdering five prostitutes, including Anneli Alderton from Colchester, in the Ipswich area in December 2006.

He has admitted having sex with the women but continues to deny murdering them.

He was convicted and ordered to serve a sentence of life meaning life in February 2008.