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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 2049 (QB)

Case No: 2004/843/MTS & 2004/844/MTS
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 11/10/2007

Before :

MR JUSTICE MITTING
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Between :

 REGINA Claimant
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 STANLEY CRANK & DUNCAN RUNCIMAN 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.


.............................

MR JUSTICE MITTING


 
MR JUSTICE MITTING :
 
1. The defendants were convicted on 8th December 2003 of the murder of Mary Ellen Crank between 21st and 23rd February 2003.   Each defendant was 45 at the date of the offence and 46 at the date of conviction. I was the trial judge and recommended a minimum term of 20 years.   The Lord Chief Justice did not consider my recommendation and the Home Secretary did not notify a tariff.
2. My description of the offence and the circumstances in which it was committed was a follows:
Crank was the only son of his widowed mother. He recruited Runciman to help kill here for her house and money. Fortified by an afternoon’s drinking, shortly after 8pm on 21/2/03, they lay in wait for her in her house, to which Crank knew that she would return. When she did so, she was pushed to the ground and stabbed at least 48 times in the mouth, neck and chest.  It was not certain whether one or two knives were used, nor whether one or both defendants stabbed her. Having disposed of blood stained clothes and gloves, both defendants returned to Runciman’s flat, to wash off remaining blood stains.  They then went to a local pub, to establish a partial alibi.
They were caught out by CCTV footage of their return to Runciman’s flat at about 8.52pm, by an analysis of their use of their mobile telephones and by traces of the victim’s watery blood on the underside of the basin in the bathroom in Runciman’s flat; and by the identical lies which they told about their movements and the use of the mobile telephones when interviewed by the police.  When their initial joint story broke down, they blamed each other.
3. I have received and considered the following:
(i) A victim personal statement made by the sisters of the deceased dated 14th February 2006.
(ii) On behalf of Crank:
(a) a letter from his solicitors dated 16th January 2006
(b) a letter from his solicitors dated 21st March 2006, enclosing a handwritten letter to them from Crank dated 11th March 2006.
(iii) On behalf of Runciman:
(a) A letter from his solicitors dated 26th June 2007 and  enclosures from HMP Liverpool, which speak of his commendable conduct in prison
(b) A hand written letter from Runciman  dated 18th June 2007.
4. The victim personal statement is a dignified and moderate statement of the impact which this crime has had upon the deceased’s 2 sisters. It expresses in eloquent and forceful terms that which any relative of the deceased, or, indeed, right thinking member of the public, would feel: that this was an evil crime.
5. In setting the minimum term I am required to have regard to the matters set out in paragraphs 4 & 8 of Schedule 22 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Because this was a murder done for gain, I am required to take a starting point of 30 years: paragraph 5 (2)(c) of Schedule 21. Although 2 of the aggravating features identified in paragraph 10 of Schedule 21 are present – a significant degree of planning and premeditation and the fact that the victim was particularly vulnerable because of age – I would not think it right to increase the minimum term beyond 30 years. Nor am I persuaded that any mitigating features exist in either case which would justify setting a lower minimum term than the starting point.
6. Paragraph 8 (a) of Schedule 22 prohibits me from specifying a minimum term greater than that which the Secretary of State would have been likely to notify under the practice followed by him before December 2002. Crank’s solicitors submit that I should take as a starting point the higher of the 2 starting points identified in the Practice Statement of 31st May 2002. In the light of the observations of the court in Sullivan 2005 1CAR3 para.42, I accept that submission; but, as a check, I will also consider the minimum term which would have been set applying the guidance in Lord Bingham CJ’s letter of 10th February 1997.  Three of the factors identified in paragraph 49.13 of the 2002 Practice Direction were present: the killing was done for gain (an accelerated inheritance and, almost certainly, stealing a significant sum in cash which, according to a friend of the victim, she had on her the previous day, her birthday); the victim was vulnerable (a 76 year old widow); multiple injuries were inflicted on her before death.  One of the aggravating features identified expressly in paragraph 49.15 was present: the killing was planned.  I do not know whether either or both of the defendants armed themselves with a weapon in advance; but given that their intention was to kill the victim and that each would have known that knives would be present in her kitchen, it makes little difference whether or not they brought them to the scene or laid hand on them there. Although not identified in paragraph 49.15 as an aggravating feature, I regard the fact that this was matricide as such. The killing of an elderly single woman for her money by her middle aged son and his associate requires the setting of a minimum term significantly greater than 16 years. Applying the 1997 guidance, the starting point of 14 years requires to be increased by reason of the following factors: the killing was planned; it was of an old and vulnerable victim; it was for gain; and it was matricide.
7. Crank and Runciman  continue to blame each other for the murder. They both lay in wait for the victim and killed her.  It does not matter what part either played. There is no mitigating feature in either case Runciman ’s good conduct in prison, though commendable, falls significantly short of that which would have lead the Home Secretary to make a modest reduction at the end of his tariff and neither requires nor permits me to reduce the minimum term which I set in his case on that account.
8. I remain of the opinion, expressed in my recommendation, that the minimum term should be 20 years. I do not believe that the Secretary of State would have notified a tariff greater than my recommendation. Accordingly, I am required by paragraph 8 (a) of Schedule 22 not to notify a minimum term greater than 20 years.
9. The whole of the time spent in custody on remand – 8 months and 27 days – should be deducted from the minimum term.
10. Accordingly, and for the reasons given, I direct that the provisions of Section 28 (5) – (8) of the Crime (Sentences Act 1997) are to apply to each defendant as soon as he has served 19 years and 93 days after the date on which each was sentenced.


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