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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: MTR / 17 / 2005



Date: 7TH FEBRUARY 2006



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 - and - 
 David Wynne Roberts 

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.


1. On 1st December 1986 at the Crown Court in Manchester the applicant David Wynne Roberts (date of birth 29th October 1954) having been convicted by a jury of murder was sentenced by Mr Justice Garland to life imprisonment. The judge in expressing his views upon the actual length of detention necessary to meet the requirements of retribution and general deterrence said: “This was, of course, his second murder. Perhaps I should have made a minimum recommendation, but I feel I did not have the material before me to make a carefully considered decision. In determinate terms, this ought to be 17/18 years.”

2. Lord Lane, then Chief Justice, made the following recommendation to the Home           Secretary: “I doubt if he should ever be released. Certainly 18 years must be an absolute minimum”. In 1988 the Home Secretary  set a whole life tariff.

3. Following further representations on the applicant’s behalf, including representations dated 21st April 1998 drafted by counsel, Mr. Tim Owen, the Home Secretary by a letter dated 14th November 2001 set the applicant’s tariff afresh at 22 years.

4. Pursuant to the provisions of section 22(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the applicant has applied to the High Court for the tariff set by the Home Secretary to       be reviewed. In reviewing the term I have had regard, pursuant to Section 269 of the Act and Schedule 22(3) and (4), to the general principles set out in Schedule 21, to the report of the trial judge, to the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice, to the representations made on the applicant’s behalf, including those submitted by the applicant’s solicitors dated 12th April 2005 and to the fresh tariff set by the Home Secretary.  The victim’s family could not be traced.

5. Whilst no specific application has been made for an oral hearing, the applicant’s solicitors suggest that if the minimum term is to be set at more than 18 years, an oral hearing would be appropriate. In the light of the detailed submissions made by them, and the matters that appear hereafter, I do not consider that on oral hearing is necessary in the interests of justice.

6. The facts in summary were as follows: the victim Mrs. Bronwen Nixon, was an elderly woman, a hotelier of some renown, who lived alone in a cottage in the grounds of her hotel. On 19th January 1986, when the hotel was closed for the winter, and the applicant and his male sexual partner had been obliged to leave their room, the applicant killed the victim. The murder took place in the victim’s cottage; the applicant stabbed her to the throat, inflicted brutal injuries to her ribs attributable to stamping on her as she lay on the ground, and finally strangled her with her own scarf. The applicant then stole some of her possessions and drove away in her car.

7. The previous murder committed by the applicant was strikingly similar. At the beginning of March 1969, the applicant entered the bungalow of an elderly woman who lived on her own, stabbed her many times with a knife, ransacked her house, stole her money and attempted to drive her car away before making off, leaving her dead or dying. For that offence, he served 7 years detention.

8. My conclusions are as follows. Under the principles set out in Schedule 21, the seriousness of the offence is “exceptionally high” since the murder was committed by an offender previously convicted of murder; accordingly the starting point would be a whole life order: paragraphs 4(1) and 4(2)(c). However, in my judgment it is necessary to consider the practice current at the time that the applicant was originally sentenced, so as to ensure that by the then contemporary standards the term set is appropriate and not excessive.

9. In assessing what would have been a commensurate term at the relevant time, I have regard to the following aggravating features:
(a) this was a second conviction for murder
(b) the victim was elderly and vulnerable
(c) the offence was committed for gain
(d) the previous murder was accompanied by the same aggravating features, albeit that the applicant was then only 14.

       10.     Further, I have regard to the fact that the Lord Lane CJ, whilst saying that 18 years             should be the “absolute minimum”, expressed doubts about whether the            applicant should ever be released. No doubt this observation in part reflected a
view as to the danger posed by the applicant; but the words which followed         show that it also reflected Lord Lane’s view of the gravity of the offence.

11.    Under those circumstances, it seems to me that by the standards current at the
   time of this sentence, a minimum term of at least 22 years was justified. I am 
satisfied that by virtue of  section 67 of the Criminal Justice Act that I should have regard to the time spent by this applicant in custody, and reduce the period
  fixed accordingly.  The time spent was 9 months and 28 days. Therefore the
  minimum period will be fixed at 21 years and 60 days.


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