IT WAS one of the most shocking crimes committed in Hampshire.

A dinner party ended in horror when handyman George Stephenson massacred the family who had sacked him three weeks earlier.

Five people were murdered at Burgate House, Fordingbridge, in September 1986 in a crime that shocked the nation.

The victims were Joseph and Hilda Cleaver, both 82, their son Thomas, 47, his wife Wendy, 46, and live-in nurse Margaret Murphy, 70.

All five were bound and gagged by Stephenson and his two accomplices.

Wendy Cleaver was tortured and repeatedly raped before being strangled. The other four burned to death after being soaked in petrol and set alight.

Yesterday, Stephenson failed in a High Court bid to have his minimum jail term reduced by ten years.

Stephenson was found guilty in October 1987 of murdering Mr and Mrs Cleaver, their son andMrsMurphy. He was cleared of murdering Wendy Cleaver but one of his co-defendants was convicted of the killing.

The trial judge ruled that Stephenson should serve 25 years before being considered for parole.

In May 2001 the tariff was increased to 35 years by then Home Secretary Jack Straw. His decision was upheld yesterday by Mr Justice Tugendhat, who rejected arguments by Stephenson's legal team that the figure should revert to 25 years.

The judge described the murders as "sadistic", adding that three of Stephenson's victims were vulnerable because of their age and disability.

Yesterday's ruling means the convicted killer can ask the Parole Board to free him in 2021.

However, he will be released only if the board considers it safe to do so. He will then remain on perpetual "life licence" and will be sent back to prison immediately if he puts a foot wrong.

Stephenson and his co-defendants - brothers George and John Daly - were convicted after a three-week trial.

The court heard that the Cleavers had sacked Stephenson in August 1986 for beating his wife. He subsequently hatched a plot to steal guns and ammunition from Burgate House and use them in a wages snatch in Nuneaton.

Armed with a gun and pickaxe handles, Stephenson and his accomplices burst into the house while the Cleavers and Mrs Murphy were having dinner.

The terrified victims were forced upstairs where they were bound and gagged.

After the murder of Wendy Cleaver, the gang killed the other four victims by dousing them in petrol and setting them alight.

Stephenson was sentenced to six life sentences for murder, rape and robbery, and John Daly was handed seven life sentences after being convicted of the same offences. George Daly was cleared of murder but sentenced to 22 years for rape, robbery and manslaughter.

No one wanted to buy Burgate House in the wake of the horrific crimes committed there and the house of horror was eventually demolished.