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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: 2004/531/MTS
Neutral Citation Number:  [2007] EWHC 2815 (QB)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

3 December 2007

Before :


Between :

The Queen

- and -

Stephen Michael Milne

Approved Judgment




1. On 11 November 2002 at Winchester Crown Court, the defendant, Stephen Milne, pleaded guilty to the murder of Humphrey Riggs.   A psychiatric report on him was ordered, and when the defendant returned to court on 7 January 2003 he was sentenced by Judge Brodrick to life imprisonment.   Judge Brodrick subsequently recommended that the defendant should serve at least 12 years in custody before he could be considered for release on licence, having taken 17 years as his starting point when account was taken of the aggravating features of the case, but having reduced it to 12 years to take into account the absence of an intention to kill, the defendant’s plea of guilty, and his remorse.  
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 the defendant either of the minimum period which he thought the defendant should serve before his release on licence could be considered, or that he did not intend that the defendant should ever be released on licence.   Accordingly, the Home Secretary referred the defendant’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 the defendant 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. The defendant was 36 years old at the time of the murder.   He was a drug addict, smoking crack cocaine and heroin every day.   He had very many previous convictions for offences of violence and dishonesty.   Needing money to buy drugs, he decided to break into the home of the deceased, who was known as Jimmy Riggs, who a friend of his had told him kept Rolex watches, antiques and money at his home.   Mr Riggs was 66 years old at the time of his death and lived alone with his dog.  

4. On the evening of 6 December 2001, the defendant broke into the garage of Mr Riggs’ house.   He had some rope with him, as well as a mask, a roll of tape and a penknife.   His plan was to immobilise Mr Riggs by tying him up and taping his mouth, to make it impossible for Mr Riggs to identify him by taping his eyes and wearing a mask, and to ransack the house.   He was to tell the police that he took the penknife with him to “get him to keep still while I robbed him”, though it may have actually been used on Mr Riggs since it was later found to be stained with Mr Riggs’ blood.  

5. The defendant made his way into the house from the garage.   Mr Riggs was asleep on a sofa in the lounge.   There was a confrontation between the two of them, during which, according to the defendant, Mr Riggs put up a considerable fight, but in due course Mr Riggs was restrained.   When he was found, his hands were tied behind his back.   The rope tying his hands also went round his head and through his mouth, so that any lowering of his hands automatically tightened the rope round his head.   The medical evidence suggested that Mr Riggs had been restrained by the time the most serious violence on him took place, though he may only have been tied up afterwards.   He had been punched many times to the head and face, the defendant subsequently admitting to have punched him at least ten times.   He had been struck on the head by two ornaments, which had smashed on impact.   And he had been struck a number of times with a leg from a coffee table which the defendant had wrenched off.   The medical evidence suggested that these blows had rendered Mr Riggs unconscious or semi-conscious, though he had remained alive for some time.   The post-mortem revealed that he had two broken ribs, extensive facial bruising, multiple scalp lacerations and sub-arachnoid haemorrhaging.   He was to die from the injuries inflicted by the defendant.  

6. Having left Mr Riggs tied up and having overturned a sofa on top of him to prevent him getting away, the defendant went upstairs and took £80.00 which he found in a coat pocket.   He also found a bunch of keys, which he assumed – correctly – included a key for a car on the carport.   The defendant drove off in it, but he later abandoned it.  

7. Later that evening, the defendant confided to some friends of his what he had done.   He expressed concern that he may have left his fingerprints at Mr Riggs’ house.   One of his friends, Jamie Kelly, suggested that they set fire to Mr Riggs’ house in order to destroy any evidence implicating the defendant with what had happened there, having first taken Mr Riggs into the garden.   Kelly’s girlfriend drove them to Mr Riggs’ house with some petrol which she had got.   In fact, the defendant and Kelly returned to Mr Riggs’ house twice since Kelly decided that he wanted to clear the house of antiques before it was burnt down.   The defendant claims that he did not go into the house when he first returned there with Kelly, who went in on his own, but the defendant admits that he went into the house with Kelly when they returned to the house a second time.   The state of Mr Riggs’ body led the defendant to think that it was highly likely that Mr Riggs had died, making it unnecessary to take him outside before the house was burnt down.   While the defendant was wiping the table leg and other items to remove his fingerprints, Kelly was pouring petrol around the house.   He overlooked the fact that there was a gas fire in the lounge.   Either the fire itself or the pilot light ignited the petrol vapour.   The defendant managed to get out of the house in time, but Kelly perished in the ensuing fire.  

8. The defendant was arrested the following day.   He was interviewed on six occasions.   In the first three interviews, he refused to answer the questions he was asked, but in the later three interviews he confessed to what had happened, though at the time he was under the impression that the state of the medical evidence was that Mr Riggs had died in the fire and not from the injuries which he had inflicted.   At his trial, the defendant sought to have the evidence of his interviews – at any rate the last three – excluded on the basis that he had been misled over the cause of Mr Riggs’ death.   The trial judge ruled that the evidence of the interviews was admissible, and not long afterwards the defendant indicated that he would plead guilty to murder.  

The appropriate minimum term
9. The minimum term which the defendant 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.  
10. Under the current law, the appropriate starting point for the minimum term in the defendant’s case would be 30 years, since this was a murder committed in the course of a robbery.   The factors which aggravated the defendant’s murder of Mr Riggs were (a) the preparations which the defendant made for the robbery of Mr Riggs – namely, obtaining the rope, the mask and the roll of tape and arming himself with a penknife – which showed a degree of premeditation, (b) the vulnerability of Mr Riggs as a relatively elderly man living on his own, and (c) the attempts which Kelly made to burn the house down – which the defendant did not try to stop – and which would have had the effect of burning Mr Riggs’ body.   On the other hand, the prosecution accepted that the defendant did not intend to kill Mr Riggs.   His intention was only to inflict such harm as would immobilise Mr Riggs and prevent Mr Riggs from identifying him, although he acknowledged that that harm would amount to really serious harm.   Moreover, his relatively early confession to what he had done, and his plea of guilty to murder once his confession had been ruled admissible, are significant mitigating factors.   The trial judge also took the view that “the incident as a whole made a substantial impact on the defendant”, and that the minimum term should reflect what the judge regarded as his remorse as well as his plea of guilty.  
11. 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 higher starting point of 15/16 years’ imprisonment would be characterised by a feature which made the crime especially serious, such as a killing done for gain (for example, in the course of a robbery), and where extensive or multiple injuries were inflicted on the victim prior to his death.   Aggravating factors which would justify varying the starting point upwards could include the destruction of the crime scene and the dismemberment of the body.   Mitigating factors which might justify a reduction in the starting point include an intention to cause grievous bodily harm, rather than to kill, clear evidence of remorse or contrition, and a timely plea of guilty.     In all the circumstances of the case, I have concluded that the appropriate minimum term under the regime governed by the Practice Statement, bearing in mind the absence of an intention to kill and the defendant’s plea of guilty, would have been 12 years’ imprisonment.   It would not be any less under the current regime.  
12. 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 the trial judge 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.  
13. Finally, from the minimum term of 12 years’ imprisonment which the defendant must serve, there must be deducted the time which he spent on remand in custody prior to sentence.   That period was 1 year and 27 days.  
14. I therefore order that the early release provisions in sections 28(5)-(8) of the Crime (Sentence) Act 1997 apply to the defendant as soon as he has served 10 years 11 months and 3 days of his sentence.   That is the minimum term which I set for his case.  

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