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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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Case No:  MTS/573/2004
Neutral Citation Number:  [2005] EWHC 2591 (QB)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

23 November 2005

Before :


Between :

The Queen

- and -

John Alistair Goddard
(Transcript of the Handed Down Judgment of
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited, 190 Fleet Street
London EC4A 2AG
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As Approved by the Court
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Crown copyright©


1. On 7 February 2003 at Liverpool Crown Court, John Goddard was convicted of the murder of Michael Twist.   He had pleaded not guilty.   I presided over his trial.   Having sentenced him to life imprisonment, I recommended that he should serve at least 12 years in custody before he could be released on licence.  
2. Schedule 22 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“the Act”) came into force on 18 December 2003.   By then, the Home Secretary had not notified Goddard either of the minimum period which he thought Goddard should serve before his release on licence or that he did not intend that Goddard should ever be released on licence.   Accordingly, the Home Secretary referred Goddard’s case to the High Court under para. 6 of schedule 22 to the Act for the making of an order under sections 269(2) or 269(4) of the Act – in effect, an order that Goddard should never be released on licence, or an order that his release on licence can be considered by the Parole Board after he has served a specified time in custody (“the minimum term”).   Section 270(1) of the Act requires me to give the reasons for such order as I make in ordinary language.  
The facts
3. Goddard was 45 years old at the time of the murder.   He had many previous convictions for offences of violence.   He had been an alcoholic for a number of years, and he was taking medication for depression.   He and Michael Twist (who was known as Twisty) were friends, and they used to drink together.   Twisty was 29 years old at the time of his death, and he too was a heavy drinker.   On the Thursday before his death, Twisty and Goddard had argued over someone who Twisty had a grudge against, but the argument had not turned physical.  
4. On the day of his death, Sunday 11 August 2002, Twisty went to Goddard’s flat.   The prosecution’s case as to what happened was based on the evidence of an eye-witness who had been staying with Goddard for a few days.   His evidence was that when Twisty arrived at Goddard’s flat shortly after lunchtime, Goddard threatened Twisty with an iron bar, but let Twisty in when he was satisfied that he was not going to have “any grief like the other night”.   After a while, Twisty and Goddard began to compare their physiques.   Although it started off good-naturedly, the atmosphere turned nasty.   Goddard was much more powerfully built than Twisty, but that did not prevent Twisty telling Goddard that he could take anything that Goddard could give him.   Goddard then forcefully jabbed a glass bottle of cider into Twisty’s face.   The bottle disintegrated, and Goddard was left with the neck of the bottle in his hand.   He then forced Twisty onto a settee, put his knee on Twisty, and stabbed him in the neck with the neck of the bottle.   When he had finished, he put the bottle down and said “I’ve killed him.   He’ll be no bother now.”   Goddard then went to his aunt’s home nearby, and called for the emergency services, but neighbours who saw him in the street gave evidence that he was smiling and that he was raising his arms in triumph as if he were a boxer.  
5. The forensic evidence was that Twisty had been struck a minimum of six times with the bottle – once over the bridge of the nose with considerable force, probably only once to the neck with moderate force (though that severed his arteries resulting in a catastrophic loss of blood from which he died), and four other times to the shoulder, arm and hand which probably happened when Twisty was trying to defend himself.  
6. Goddard’s evidence was that Twisty was not only taunting him to hit Twisty, but that Twisty himself was threatening to smash his face in.   At that moment, he “had a picture” of Twisty about to hit him with the iron bar (which Goddard had had with him when he had let Twisty into the flat).   In order to defend himself from the attack which he thought Twisty was about to subject him to, he picked up the bottle of cider which was on the floor, and hit Twisty in the face with it.   Goddard’s momentum carried him forward, and that was how he came to “jab” Twisty in the neck.   The wounds to Twisty’s shoulder, arm and hand were caused as he tried to push Twisty off.   He denied the behaviour afterwards which his neighbours had attributed to him.   By its verdict, the jury rejected Goddard’s defence of self-defence, the likeliest reason for doing so, in my opinion, being that the jury did not believe Goddard when he claimed that he thought that Twisty had been about to attack him.  
7. Apart from self-defence, the possibility of convicting Goddard of manslaughter was left to the jury on two alternative bases.   The first was that he had not intended to cause Twisty really serious injury.   The second was that he had been provoked by Twisty’s taunting of him into attacking him.   Both of these defences were rejected by the jury.  
The appropriate minimum term
8. The minimum term which Goddard should serve must reflect the seriousness of his offence.   That involves choosing the appropriate starting point, and then taking into account any aggravating or mitigating factors to the extent that they were not allowed for in the choice of the appropriate starting point.  
9. Under the current law, the choice of the appropriate starting point is limited to a whole life order, 30 years or 15 years.   All murders involve the tragic loss of life, but the murder of Twisty did not come within any of the examples given in schedule 21 to the Act of cases for which either a whole life order or a starting point of 30 years would normally be appropriate.   The appropriate starting point for the minimum term in Goddard’s case is therefore 15 years.  
10. The factors which aggravated the murder of Twisty were (a) the ferocity of the attack, (b) Goddard’s record of violence, and (c) his apparent sense of satisfaction over what he did, at least in the immediate aftermath of his attack on Twisty.   I do not accept the representations of Goddard’s solicitors that the attack was not a ferocious one, nor that there was an insufficient evidential basis for the court to conclude that Goddard’s behaviour immediately after the murder displayed a strong element of triumphalism.   On the other hand, Goddard’s attack on Twisty was a spontaneous one.   Goddard was simply unable to listen any longer to Twisty’s claim that he could take Goddard on at any time.   The only thing which Goddard had in mind at the time was to make Twisty stop saying that.   His over-reaction was, of course, completely unacceptable, but I do not think that he actually had it in mind to kill Twisty.  
11. Goddard’s solicitors have contended that his minimum term should be reduced to reflect the progress which he has made in prison.   I accept that Goddard has made good progress while in prison, though his possession of unauthorised drugs which led to an adjudication in January 2004 was a setback.   But I do not believe that his progress in prison can be described as sufficiently exceptional to warrant a reduction in the minimum term which would otherwise have been appropriate.   He has made the progress in prison which is expected of all mandatory life sentence prisoners.  
12. Whatever the minimum term which would now be set under the current law, the minimum term which I must set may not be any longer than the minimum term which would have been set by the Home Secretary under the practice which the Home Secretary would have followed at the time.   Recommendations by the trial judge were then based on the Practice Statement (Crime: Life Sentences) [2002] 1 WLR 1789 handed down on 31 May 2002.   The Practice Statement permitted the court to take different starting points depending on the circumstances of the case.   Cases falling within the lower starting point of 12 years’ imprisonment would normally involve the killing of an adult victim, arising from a quarrel or loss of temper between two people known to each other.   This case classically comes within that description, but since most such cases involve spontaneous attacks in which the loss of life was not the intended consequence, the absence of premeditation or an intention to kill will to some extent already have been built in to the starting point.  
13. Goddard’s solicitors have argued that three factors listed in the Practice Statement which would exceptionally reduce the starting point were present in this case:  that it came close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter, that Goddard was provoked in the non-technical sense, and that the case was an over-reaction in self-defence.   I do not accept these arguments.   There was, I think, little chance of Goddard being convicted of manslaughter only.   Indeed, his solicitors’ representations reveal that this was recognised by Goddard’s advisers who advised him at the time to plead guilty to murder.   Such provocation as there was was extremely modest, and although Goddard undoubtedly over-reacted, it was not an over-reaction in self-defence.   It was an over-reaction to Twisty boasting about his own athletic prowess.   In all the circumstances of the case, I remain of the view that the appropriate minimum term under the regime governed by the Practice Statement was 12 years’ imprisonment.   It would not be any less under the current regime.
14. In Sullivan [2004] EWHC Crim 1762, the Lord Chief Justice said that the Home Secretary fixed the minimum term in accordance with the recommendation of the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice “in the great majority of cases”.   There is nothing in this case which suggests that this would have been one of those exceptional cases in which the Home Secretary would have differed from the view which I expressed.   I conclude therefore that the minimum term which would have been set by the Home Secretary under the practice which he would have followed at the time would have been 12 years’ imprisonment.  
15. Finally, from the minimum term of 12 years’ imprisonment which Goddard must serve, there must be deducted the time which he spent on remand in custody prior to sentence.   That period was 5 months and 24 days.  

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