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Minimum terms

High Court setting of minimum terms for mandatory life sentences under the Criminal Justice Act 2003



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Neutral Citation Number: [2006] EWHC 2944 (QB)

Case No: 2004/324/MTS
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 19/12/2006

Before :

THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE OPENSHAW
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Between :

 Regina Prosecution
 - and - 
 John TAYLOR Defendant

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Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.


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Mr. Justice OPENSHAW :
 

1. On the 8th July 2002 following his plea of guilty to murder before Mr Justice Astill, at the Crown Court at Leeds, John Taylor was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment. The judge recommended that he serve 25 years before being considered for release by the Parole Board. In due course, Lord Woolf CJ reduced that recommendation to 20 years; he said – no doubt correctly - that 25 years ‘was out of line with current practice’. However, before the Secretary of State set the minimum term which he must serve, the process became subject to the new regime introduced by section 269 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  He is now an ‘existing prisoner’ within the meaning of Schedule 22 of the Act; the Secretary of State has referred the matter to the High Court under paragraph 6 of that schedule for the minimum term to be set, pursuant to section 28(5) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997.
2. Although I have read the police ‘Report for the High Court’, this summary of the facts is taken from the written recommendation made at the time by the sentencing judge. On the evening of the 26 November 2000, Leanne Tiernan, a 16 year old girl was walking home along an unlit wooded path (known locally as Houghley Gill) in Leeds. The defendant, who was a complete stranger to her, was laying in wait; Leanne was not personally targeted, the defendant would have attacked any vulnerable young woman walking alone. There was no eye-witness to what followed but a girl’s scream was heard but stifled. It is plain that he seized her and by force compelled her to walk to his home, having tied her hands behind her back and blind-folded her.  Back at his house, during the course of a sexual assault upon her, he strangled her with a scarf and a plastic ligature.
3. Leanne’s body was not discovered until August 2001; it was buried in a shallow grave in Lindley Woods, some miles away. A man had been seen carrying a large bundle from the boot of his car into the woods some days before the discovery.  Her hands were tied and a knotted scarf and a plastic cable were wound tightly around the neck. The post mortem examination concluded that the degree of composition was inconsistent with burial in the ground for many months, as the defendant suggested.  Based upon expert evidence, the judge concluded that the defendant had kept the body for some time in his deep freeze; presumably this was in part to avoid detection and in part as a trophy.
4. This was a planned and sadistic murder of a child, aggravated by the element of abduction and sexual assault. The victim must have suffered terribly. He then hid the body, first in the freezer and then in the woods. Even in cases of this gravity, I am required to consider whether credit should be given for a plea of guilty, but some of the little credit available was lost by his persistence in denying some elements of the offence; a Newton hearing was ordered but the defendant withdrew his basis of plea on the day of he hearing.  These circumstances would now attract a whole life tariff, even on a plea.
5. I have read the representations made on his behalf by Graham Stowe Bateson. In my judgment, there was no mitigation whatsoever either in the facts of the offence or in his personal circumstances. It is true that he has made some progress in prison but set against the magnitude of his offending, this – frankly - counts for nothing.
6. I note that the family of the victim have said that they intend to submit Victim Personal Statements but they have not, in fact done so. Their anguish does not need to be spelt out, for it is obvious to all.
7. Following his arrest for murder and now having his DNA, the police embarked upon a painstaking review of the unsolved sexual attacks by strangers upon women in the locality. By this means the defendant’s guilt was proved of two other terrible rapes committed respectively in 1988 and 1989. The facts of these cases can be stated shortly. (I use initials only to preserve their anonymity) A was aged 32, she was attacked and raped by the defendant, who was masked and armed with a knife as she walked across some waste ground near Houghley Gill on 18 October 1988; he forced her to take his penis in her mouth; he raped her vaginally and threatened her with anal rape; not surprisingly she has been dreadfully affected by her ordeal. B was aged 21 as she was accosted by a masked man, armed with a knife, who intruded into her own home at lunchtime on 1st March 1989; he made her go to her bed-room, where he undressed her; he blindfolded her and gagged her; again he forced her to commit an act of oral sex upon him, ejaculating into her mouth; he then raped her vaginally and tried to rape her anally; she also still suffers from the after effects of the rape. In due course, the defendant pleaded guilty to these rapes before His Hon. Judge Norman Jones QC, the Recorder of Leeds, who sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment and expressly dis-applied the early release provisions; this is, in effect, amounted to a whole life sentence.
8. The fact that this defendant now has a conviction for this murder and for these terrible rapes will be highly relevant if the Parole Board come to consider the risk which he presents, if he were ever to be released. In setting the minimum term, I am concerned with the retributive and deterrent element only; it is for the Parole Board – and not for me – to consider the danger to the public. However, the question now arises whether I can – and, if so, should - take the rapes into account when I now fix the time to be served by way of deterrence and retribution for the murder or whether I must fix the minimum term, having regard only to those matters which were known to the trial judge at the time that he made his recommendation. There is, to my knowledge, no authority on the point.
9. By paragraph 10 (a) of Schedule 22, the court may not set a minimum term ‘which in the opinion of the court is greater than that which, under the practice followed by the Secretary of State before December 2002, the Secretary of State would have been likely to notify’. This paragraph ensures that these provisions are not retrospective, for it would be objectionable if the Act exposed defendants to penalties greater than the maximum sentence to which they were subject in law at the time of offending.  I do not interpret this as preventing the court from taking into account the previous rapes even though they came to light only after he was sentenced for the murder; indeed not to do so would be entirely contrary to commonsense and public policy. Accordingly, I propose to do so, as the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice, would have done, had they known.
10. The guidelines then in force were those set by Lord Bingham CJ in his letter to the judges dated 10 February 1997 (conveniently set out in paragraphs IV.49.18 – 21 of the Practice Direction of 31 May 2002), which set a starting point of 14 years for what he called the ‘average’ murder. He identified the killing of a child, sexual maltreatment and a substantial record of serious violence as aggravating features; all of these features are present here. What then would the Secretary of State have set as the minimum term had he known of these matters? Until the passing of the 2003 Act, whole life terms were reserved for the very few notorious multiple offenders; I do not think that he would have imposed a whole life term; accordingly, loyally applying the statute - as I must – I cannot now impose a whole life term myself. But in those cases, such as the present, where there are several different aggravating factors, even then very long minimum terms were appropriate. This is surely one of those most serious cases where the Secretary of State would have gone as high as 30 years, even on a plea. Accordingly, I set the minimum term at 30 years.
11. I order, as I am required to do, that the term of 30 years is reduced by the period of 8 months and 26 days, which he spent in custody before being sentenced. 
12. I am anxious that this sentence is not misunderstood or mis-reported. The sentence is – and remains – a sentence of imprisonment for life. The defendant may not even be considered for release for this offence of murder until he has served at least 30 years. That is not to say that he will then be released; for the whole life term imposed for the rapes remains in force. Furthermore, the defendant will be detained unless and until the Parole Board is satisfied that he no longer presents a risk to the public. Many prisoners, and surely John Taylor is likely to be one, are in fact detained for many years after their tariff has expired; indeed it may be that he presents such a risk that he could never safely be released but that is for others to decide in due course. I am just anxious that no one thinks that I am suggesting that he be released in 30 years for I most certainly am not.


 


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