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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: [2008] EWHC 429 (QB)

Case No: 2006/24/MTR
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 19/03/2008

Before:

THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE MACKAY
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Between :

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 DAVID JOHN RITCHIE 

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Hearing dates: 9th – 12th October 2000
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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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THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE MACKAY


 
Mr Justice Mackay:

 
1. The defendant is an existing prisoner who was convicted on 12 October 2000 together with a co-accused named Wood of the murder of Thomas Flaherty.  The following day he was sentenced to life imprisonment.  The trial judge recommended a tariff period of 14 years with which the then Lord Chief Justice agreed.  The Secretary of State set the tariff at 14 years.
2.  The deceased lived alone and was known to both defendants.  He was in a sexual relationship with the defendant’s mother.  At midnight on the 11/12 February 2000 the two accused (one at least of whom had been drinking heavily) went to the deceased’s flat where they were admitted.  The co-accused Wood started the violence by punching the deceased in the face.  Thereupon both accused carried out a sustained and extremely violent attack using a variety of weapons that came to hand, including a glass ashtray, a cup, a knife, pieces of broken board and a TV set.  The skull of the deceased was fragmented and his brain mortally injured.  Some thirty five blows had been delivered, twenty five of which were to the head.  The pathologist described the injuries as the worst he had seen in this type of case.
3. The co-accused pleaded guilty and gave evidence for the Crown.  The judge’s view was that both were equally to blame for the attack.  A psychiatric report on the defendant indicated that he was suffering from no form of mental illness or impairment.
4. Were the defendant being sentenced today under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the starting point for the minimum term that would be imposed would be one of 15 years.  The aggravating features present in the attack were the extreme nature of the violence and the use of weapons, albeit not weapons which had been brought to the premises for that purpose.  In mitigation it could be realistically argued that despite the severity of the attack the intention was to commit grievous bodily harm rather than to kill and the element of premeditation was probably absent in that the intention to carry out this attack was probably formed in the short time before it took place.
5. There are moving statements from the surviving relatives of the deceased.  His brother had the gruesome experience of identifying the mutilated body of the deceased and has suffered considerable consequences as a result of this crime including difficulties in forming relationships.  The deceased’s father continues to suffer from flashbacks and his mother graphically describes her current position as that of someone who cannot wait to die and join her son.  These are indeed moving accounts.
6. The prison reports indicate that the defendant is making good progress and his conduct is exemplary; the written representations submitted on behalf of the defendant suggest that the minimum term be fixed at 13 years.
7. There is an application by the defence for an oral hearing which relies on the assertion that “this is an exceptional case” within the meaning of Hammond [2004] EWHC 2753 Admin.  No particulars are given as to the exceptional features relied on in support of this application.  In my judgment this is not one of the rare cases in which an oral hearing is necessary in order to dispose fairly of this review.
8. I consider that the early release provisions should apply to this sentence but that the minimum term to be served to meet the requirements of punishment and general deterrence is one of 14 years, less 7 months 25 days time in custody on remand.


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