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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 3122 (QB)

Case No: 2004/492/MTR

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 14/12/2006

Before :

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Neither party were represented

Hearing dates: 17 October - 24 November 1988
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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.



Mr Justice Cooke :
1. This is an application under Schedule 22 paragraph 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in relation to a notification in writing by the Secretary of State on 25 August 1994 of the minimum period which, in the view of the Secretary of State, should be served before the applicant’s release on licence.  That period was 20 years, which corresponded with the recommendation of the trial judge and that of the Lord Chief Justice.  The applicant was aged 34 at the date of the offence, 16 November 1987, 35 at the date of conviction and had served 12 months and 4 days in custody on remand by that time.
2. Under paragraph 3 of Schedule 22 of the Act, I order that the early release provisions of Section 28 (5)-(8) of the Crime Sentences Act 1997 are to apply when the applicant has served the part of the sentence which is specified in this order, which, by statute, cannot be greater than the minimum term notified by the Secretary of State.
3. In dealing with this application, I have had regard to the matters specified in paragraph 4 of Schedule 22 and in particular to the seriousness of the offence, the recommendations made to the Secretary of State by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice and the length of the notified minimum term.
4. There was a considerable background to the murder of the victim Helen Hodgson.  There were five defendants, three of whom were convicted of murder, one of whom was convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility whilst the last was convicted of assisting an offender.  All five had conspired together.  The applicant had an appalling past history as set out in various reports which have been put before me.  She had been subject to severe sexual and emotional abuse in childhood from her father and others.  Her mother compelled her to participate in acts of theft.  As a teenager she was raped and became pregnant.  She had unsatisfactory relationships with men and the local authorities removed children from her care.
5. In due course she married Ian Carpenter and they had a son who was aged 9 at the time of the murder.  After the birth she was sterilised but wished to have another child.  In consequence an arrangement was made whereby the victim should have a child by her husband which the applicant would then treat as a child of the family.  The victim came to spend a night with her husband in June 1987 for insemination purposes.  Both the victim and the applicant’s husband decided to continue with the arrangement so that the victim then joined the applicant and her husband in living in the same house.  The applicant’s husband posted a rota in the kitchen listing which nights he would make himself available to the two women.  The applicant found this disagreeable and moved out in September 1987 with her son but, on occasion, her husband would visit her for sexual intercourse.
6. The applicant decided that the victim should be killed and, on the trial judge’s findings, enlisted the help of the other defendants, some of whom were of very limited intelligence.  The applicant was to order goods from mail order catalogues and to supply them to three of the other defendants by way of reward.  The applicant and one of the other defendants prepared a letter which purported to be written by the victim to the applicant’s husband, saying that she had gone off with another man and would not return.
7. On 16 November 1987, three of the defendants went to the applicant’s house where she provided them with a length of clothes line and some superglue.  The three then went to the victim’s house and saw the applicant’s husband leave the premises before knocking on the door and telling the victim that they had come, by arrangement, to see the applicant’s husband when he returned.  They entered.  The victim was attacked in the living room from behind and stabbed in the stomach with a kitchen knife.  The two men present used the clothes line to strangle her and superglue was applied to her lips and nostrils before the body was wrapped in a blanket, put in a car and disposed of.
8. By their verdict, the jury found that the applicant procured one or more of the other defendants to kill the victim.  The judge found that she was an “evil woman”, who wanted her worthless and unfaithful husband to herself, and therefore took steps to have the victim killed.  The Lord Chief Justice referred to this as a “contract killing”, with a very low level of reward.  He commented that, generally speaking, contract killings required a 25 year period for retribution and deterrence but agreed with the judge’s view that 20 years was appropriate for her and for the older male who was convicted of murder, whilst ten years was considered appropriate for the younger male who was only 17 at the time.
9. Following sentence counsel for the applicant drew the attention of the Home Secretary to the fact that the crime would not have been countenanced by the applicant had it not been for the position in which she found herself as a result of her husband’s behaviour.  In the period of time between June 1987 when the victim came to live at her home until September 1987 when the applicant moved out, she was subjected to intolerable humiliation and, it was said, her life, once she moved out, was still dominated by the misery which this treatment undoubtedly caused her and by her longing to be reunited with her husband.  Reference was made to the social inquiry report and the report and evidence of Dr Gudjonsson.  These revealed different aspects of a disturbed and perhaps damaged personality, arising from her lifetime experiences as a child and her relationships with men, including someone with whom she had previously lived and with whom she had children and thereafter with her husband.  The submissions to the Home Secretary included the following:-
“Those who represented Agnes Carpenter at the trial were so concerned about these matters that they arranged for her to see Dr McKeith, a consultant psychiatrist at the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital.  It was not possible in the event to raise a defence of diminished responsibility within the definition of the 1957 Act.  Dr McKeith was deeply concerned about her lack of insight and felt that, unless and until she felt able to be frank and open with him, he could not help on this aspect.”
10. Following the notification by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, further representations were made on behalf of the applicant in October 1998, nearly 11 years after the murder had taken place enclosing the reports of Dr Gudjonsson and Dr McKeith together with further reports by a clinical psychologist and a psychiatric report.  The submission made was that there was now information which was not available at trial or in the initial setting of the tariff, because there was now greater evidence that the applicant was a depressed and vulnerable woman with a diagnosed personality disorder who was unable to cope with the dire situation in which she found herself.  In consequence, the requirements of retribution and deterrence should take into account those matters which, although not sufficiently strong to amount to a legal defence to murder, might nonetheless diminish responsibility in terms of her culpability for what she had done.  It appears to have been suggested, implicitly, that she might not have orchestrated the events in question and that her culpability was not as great as perceived by the trial judge, the Lord Chief Justice and the Home Secretary.
11. Further reports have been produced by a Dr Brennan, a consultant forensic psychiatrist in 2001 and 2002, by a Dr Sharmar, another forensic psychiatrist in September 2002, by Dr Hadi a clinical psychologist in July 2002, by Dr Dick a consultant neurologist in July 2002 and a WAIS 3 assessment report in March 2004.  The submission was made that, on this evidence the applicant had suffered a significant head injury with resultant brain damage and that deficits in concentration and memory could be attributable to this as well as to depressive illness.  Her IQ was low.  Her social judgment was impaired by her disturbed upbringing, including prolonged sexual and physical abuse which had distorted her development.  The head injury might have contributed to the abnormal personality development as well as epilepsy.  The combination of the head injury and the adverse development history had contributed to a personality disorder that included dependent and emotionally unstable borderline personality traits.
12. This emotionally unstable personality disorder was something which should be taken into account in the context of the requirements of retribution and deterrence, although not sufficiently strong to amount to a legal defence to murder.
13. Finally, further submissions were made on the 1 October 2004 in reliance upon a report prepared by a consultant in forensic clinical psychology, Dr Coldwell.  In his report of 29 July 2004, he stated his conclusion that the applicant suffered from a mixed personality disorder having features found in a number of other disorders but not amounting to any of those disorders.  He also referred to some form of brain injury, to the epilepsy from which she suffered, and to her significant impairment of intelligence, particularly in her verbal abilities.  Both he and Mr Hunt in 1998 concluded that it seemed highly unlikely that the applicant possessed either the command of verbal skills or the dominance of personality to persuade others to participate in a criminal enterprise and this ought to be borne in mind in determining culpability and the minimum term to be served.
14. I take into account these submissions and the evidence put forward in relation to them but bear in mind that all of this evidence is adduced some ten to eighteen years after the event.  Its value is therefore considerably reduced on that account.  Moreover it flies in the face of the verdict of the jury and the judge’s view at the time that, whilst not participating in the physical attack on the victim which caused her death, she had played her part in arranging, organising or procuring it.  That was the only basis upon which she could have been convicted.  If she did not instigate it, it is hard to see who could have done so, notwithstanding any other grievances.
15. The seriousness of this murder is not such as to fall within paragraph 4 of Schedule 21 to the 2003 Act, where a full life order is the starting point for assessing the minimum term under Section 269(2) of that Act.
16. Paragraph 5 of Schedule 21 however provides for a starting point of 30 years for determining the minimum term where the seriousness of the offence is particularly high.  A murder done for gain, whether for payment, or done in the expectation of gain as a result of the death is a case which ordinarily falls within this category.  This murder also involved a substantial degree of premeditation and planning, involving four or five defendants.  It was a brutal piece of vengeance on the part of the applicant who organised it.  Whilst she did not carry out the murder for gain, she was willing to pay others to do so.  Whilst this murder may not fall neatly into the category of those set out in paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 and I consider that the starting point would, in accordance with current sentencing, be 15 years under paragraph 6 of Schedule 21, the aggravating factors mean that a higher figure for the minimum term is inevitable.  Amongst those aggravating factors are the significant degree of planning and premeditation, the physical suffering inflicted on the victim before her death, the abuse of trust, insofar as she allowed these individuals into the house on the pretext that they were to see the applicant’s husband and the concealment of the body after the murder had been committed.  There was a clear intention to kill.  Against this are two factors, as set out in paragraph 11c and d of Schedule 21, inasmuch as the applicant suffered from a mental disorder or mental disability which, although not amounting to a defence of diminished responsibility, lowered her degree of culpability inasmuch as there was the non-technical provocation of her husband’s appalling behaviour.  Taking all these factors into account, together with the period of time spent in custody on remand which would have been credited to her, had she been sentenced to a fixed term of imprisonment, I order that the early release provisions will apply to the applicant as soon as she has served eighteen years and one month in prison from the date of her conviction.


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