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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: [2007] EWHC 718 (QB)

Case No: 2004/469/MTS


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 2 April 2007

Before :


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The Honourable Mr Justice Owen :
1. On 3 July 2003 the applicant, Kevin Anthony McKnight, was convicted of the murder of Lorenzo Bussetti on 6 September 2002.  The applicant was 23 years of age at the date of the offence, 24 when convicted.  The deceased was the landlord of 11 Lambert Road, Brixton.  It was divided into flats.  The applicant was the husband of the tenant of flat 3.  On 6 September 2002, shortly after the expiry of the 6 month term of the tenancy, the deceased called at the flat.  An argument ensued in the hallway of the premises between the applicant and the deceased.  It escalated into a struggle which was overheard by another tenant.  During the struggle a firearm was produced, and the deceased suffered gun shot wounds to the chest and to the head.  The shot to the head was immediately fatal.  The police were called but the applicant did not answer the door to the flat.  He attempted to clean the blood from the scene of the crime and placed the body of the deceased into a suitcase.  It was necessary to break the legs at the knees in order to do so.  Using a mini-cab he subsequently disposed of the suitcase in a public park.  He claimed to have disposed of the firearm in the same park, but it was never recovered.  When arrested he lied to the police claiming to have been elsewhere at the time of the killing.  But on 11 September 2002 he asked to be re-interviewed, and admitted involvement in the death, claiming that the deceased had produced the firearm and that he had acted in self-defence.  He then took the police to the body.  At trial he contended that the deceased had produced the firearm and that the shooting was a combination of accident and self-defence.
2. There are before me witness impact statements from 3 children of the deceased, Paul Bussetti, Liza Bussetti and Anthony Bussetti, and from the deceased’s older sister.  They set out in moving terms the devastating effect that his murder has had upon his family.
3. This is an application to set the minimum term under schedule 22 paragraph 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  In considering the application I must have regard to the seriousness of the offence committed by the applicant, and in so doing I must have regard to the general principles set out in schedule 21 of the Act and also to the recommendation made to the Secretary of State by the trial Judge.
4. I am also to have regard to the effect that section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 would have had if the applicant would have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and should therefore, where appropriate, give credit for time spent on remand in consequence of his having been committed to custody by an order of the court made in connection with proceedings relating to the murder.  I am satisfied that in this case I should have regard to a period of 9 months 19 days.
5. This was a murder involving the use of a firearm and in consequence falls within paragraph 5(1) of schedule 21 of the Act, which for an offender aged 18 years or over when the offence was committed, stipulates a starting point of 30 years.  The offence was also aggravated by an attempt to conceal the body by its removal in a suitcase and by the attempts to clean the crime scene.
6. In making a recommendation of a minimum term of 14 years, the learned trial judge identified two mitigating factors, namely the relatively young age of the applicant and secondly his good character.  Furthermore in the written representations submitted on his behalf it is argued that the killing was not pre-mediated but was spontaneous arising from the unexpected argument between the deceased and the applicant.  I accept that that affords some further mitigation.
7. But as the offence was committed before 18 December 2003 I must also take account of the guidance set out by Lord Woolf CJ in his practice direction dated 31 May 2002.  Lord Woolf advanced two starting points, the normal starting point of 12 years and a higher starting point of 15/16 years.  Cases to which the higher starting point applied were those characterised by a feature making the crime especially serious.  As Mr Wood QC, who has made written representations as to the tariff on the part of the applicant, submits, the case does not have any of the features identified in the practice direction as indicating the higher starting point.  It is therefore appropriate to take the starting point of 12 years.
8. But the use of the firearm, the attempt to dispose of the body and to clean the scene of the crime are very serious aggravating features.  Taking full account of the mitigating factors to which I have referred, I have come to the conclusion that the appropriate minimum term is one of 15 years, less the period of 9 months 19 days spent in custody on remand.
9. The minimum term is the minimum amount of time that the applicant will spend in prison from the date of sentence before the parole board can order early release.  If it remains necessary for the protection of the public, the applicant will continue to be detained after that date.  When the applicant has served the minimum term, and if the parole board decides to direct his release, he will remain on licence for the rest of his life and may be recalled to prison at any time if in breach of the terms of his parole.

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