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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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[2007] EWHC 478 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE                            Ref No. 2004/836/MTS

Royal Courts of Justice
London WC2A 2LL

Handed down, 15 March 2007







1. This is a reference under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Schedule 22, paragraphs 6 and 11, for the setting of a minimum term to be served by a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder.
2. Shane Manson was sentenced by me to life imprisonment on 23 October 2003 for the murder of Eamon McDonagh, after his conviction by a jury at Preston Crown Court.
3. The case summary and summary of evidence that are with the papers must be read subject to my own Report to the Home Secretary following the trial.  In summary the facts were these.  The deceased was 19 at the time of his death in the early hours of 29 January 2003.  He was the brother-in-law of Shane Manson.  The evidence was that the two men got on well together, although Shane Manson did not get on well with other members of the family of the deceased.  Both were members of travelling families and both were living in Blackburn.  On the evening on 28 January the two men bought alcohol, drank heavily together and took cocaine.  They retired to a caravan in which Shane Manson was living.  At about 4.30 a.m. Shane Manson visited a great uncle, told him that he had killed Eamon and tried to persuade the great uncle to support a false story that the two men had been attacked by four men with iron bars.  Shane Manson repeated the false story on many occasions and gave evidence to that effect at his trial.  The deceased was found unconscious by the family and Shane Manson near the caravan.  He died in hospital at about 6.30 a.m. from several injuries to the head, including a massive fracture of the skull leading to brain damage.  The injuries were caused by a blunt instrument, and at least one probably by stamping.  There was no evidence of the deceased having put up a fight.
4. The conclusion must have been that the two men fell out after drinking and taking cocaine, but no convincing reason emerged for their doing so.
5. No representations have been received from or on behalf of Shane Manson.  He has consulted two sets of solicitors and since he cannot read or write the Lifer Governor has also been asked to explain matters to him.
6. Although initially the reference was sent to me without any victim personal statement, I asked that further efforts should be made to contact the family of the deceased.  I now have the benefit of a moving statement by Kathleen McDonagh, the mother of the deceased.  She describes the lasting effect of the murder on her and other members of the family.  She also describes fears about the release of Shane Manson; I should point out that such fears may be relevant to any future decision of the Parole Board about whether Shane Manson can safely be released, but are not relevant to my setting of the minimum term.
7. I must have regard to paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 22 of the 2003 Act.   The relevant factors are the seriousness of the offence, the time spent on remand,  the general principles set out in Schedule 21 that now apply to minimum terms, the practice at the time followed by the Secretary of State and the recommendation in fact made by me to the Secretary of State.  The Lord Chief Justice made no recommendation.
8. As to Schedule 21, this murder would today qualify for a starting point of 15 years.    None of the aggravating factors listed in the Schedule were present, but I regarded and still regard it as an aggravating feature that Shane Manson must have left the deceased seriously injured before trying to enlist his great uncle to support a lying story and then pretending with the family to search for the deceased.  There was, however, no evidence that earlier assistance would have saved the life of the deceased.
9. Of the listed mitigating features I accepted that Shane Manson should be dealt with on the basis of an intention to cause serious bodily harm rather to kill.  It must be assumed that the attack was not premeditated.  There was no basis for any finding that the attack was provoked.
10. If sentence was being passed under Schedule 21, the minimum period would in my view be 14 years.
11. Under the practice that was followed at the time I took the view that the starting point should be 12 years and I made a recommendation of 11 years.  I see no reason to revise my view that the practice at the time should result in such a recommendation.  Paragraph 8 of Schedule 22 requires that the minimum term should be no greater.   It cannot be increased because a sentence passed today would be longer.
12. The minimum term will therefore be 11 years, less 8 months 17 days spent on remand.

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