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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:  MTS/930/2004
Neutral Citation Number:  [2005] EWHC 2083 (QB)

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Thursday 29th September 2005

Before :

Between :



Ian Huntley

(Transcript of the Handed Down Judgment of
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1. The purpose of this hearing is to make a public announcement of my order of the minimum period which the Defendant should serve before the Parole Board may consider his release on licence or whether I should make no such order, with the effect that his release on licence could never be considered by the Parole Board.

2. The order and the reasons for making such an order are given for the purposes of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  The relevant provisions of that Act, and in particular Schedule 22, came into force on 18 December 2003, the day after this defendant was convicted and sentenced.  The Home Secretary has referred this case to the High Court for the purposes of making an order pursuant to s. 269 of the 2003 Act.  He had not notified the Defendant of any minimum period, or that he should never be released.

3. The only facts which it is necessary to set out are those which are relevant to my reasons for making the order I propose to announce.  This is not, therefore, the occasion for repeating the words I addressed either to the defendant or to the victims’ families when I passed sentence at the Central Criminal Court on 17 December 2003

4. The two ten year old victims left Holly Well’s parents house in the late afternoon of 4th August 2002 and walked through Soham to buy sweets.  They did not know the defendant, who was caretaker of the senior school.  They did know his partner, Maxine Carr who worked as an assistant at their primary school.  When they passed Huntley’s house, he enticed them inside, probably on the untrue pretext that Carr was inside.  Once in the house he murdered them both.  Thereafter he drove their bodies to a remote ditch, stripped them and attempted to burn them.  He returned home and joined the search for the two girls whose disappearance was causing increasing anxiety.  For the next thirteen days, until his arrest, he attempted to present an appearance of innocent concern to the police and to the media.  He made attempts to destroy the evidence, partially burning the children’s clothes and cleaning the interior of the house so as to leave little signs of their presence inside.  Only when forensic evidence, many months later, demonstrated that the girls had been in the house and that one had been in his bedroom, did he admit that they had been in the house.  He claimed that they had left.  Only at trial did he admit they had died in the house. He said that Holly Wells had drowned by accident in the bath, when he was helping her with a nosebleed and that he had unintentionally been responsible for Jessica Chapman’s death when he placed his hand over her mouth to stop her screaming.  The prosecution suggested a sexual motive for the killings, but no evidence of sexual activity was found.  The defendant has never said how or why he killed these two girls.  The evidence of the pathologist suggests they were smothered to death but the state of the bodies was such that no cause of death could be found.

5. This is a case which the offences were committed before the 2003 Act came into force.  But since the prisoner had not been notified of any minimum period or that he would never be released, I have to consider the appropriate order pursuant to the provisions of Paragraphs 5-8 of Schedule 22, the Consolidated Practice Direction of 29 July 2004 and the principles identified in Sullivan.  I have first to consider the order under the sentencing regime, introduced under the 2003 Act. In order to choose an appropriate starting point.  I must then take account of aggravating and mitigating features as set out in paragraphs 10 and 11 of Schedule 21. Thirdly I must make allowance for the time the defendant spent on remand before sentence.

6. Next it is of importance to bear in mind that the 2003 statute carefully seeks to avoid the making of any minimum order after the Act came into force which is longer than that which would have been notified before, so as to avoid the statute creating any retro-active effect: no defendant may receive a harsher penalty than that for which the law provided at the time he committed the offence.

7. Since the date of these murders was 4 August 2002, the relevant guidelines for the making of an order were those set out in the Practice Statement handed down on 31 May 2002.

8. In reaching my conclusions I have considered the representations made on the defendant’s behalf by his legal representatives.  I have also considered the personal statements from both victims’ families, describing the impact on them of the loss of their daughters.


9. In identifying an appropriate starting point under Schedule 21 I have considered whether that starting point should be a whole life order under Paragraph 4 or 30 years under Paragraph 5.  I have come to the conclusion that the appropriate starting point is one of 30 years. I have considered whether there are proven features of this case which bring it within Paragraph 4 and thus justifying a whole life order.  But the case lacks a proven element of abduction; the meet between the girls and the defendant, whilst the other defendant Carr was away was plainly by chance.  It is likely that the defendant took advantage of the girls’ acquaintance with Carr to entice them into the house but that could not be proved.  Their presence in the house, thus, remains unexplained.  There is a likelihood of sexual motivation, but there was no evidence of sexual activity and it remains no more than a likelihood.  In those circumstances the starting point should not be a whole life order.

10. But the case clearly falls under Paragraph 5, two children were murdered. The appropriate starting point is 30 years.

11. I must then consider aggravating features. Although there was no premeditation, the two children were vulnerable and obviously trusted the defendant because of his position in the school as caretaker and relationship with Carr.  In particular, he must have killed one of the girls to avoid that girl disclosing his murder of the first.  He must have killed her when she knew what he had done to her friend. He concealed and attempted to destroy the bodies of both his victims.

12. Against these aggravating features, I can find no mitigation.  His actions in pretending to exhibit innocent concern after the murders demonstrate his lack of remorse.

13. These aggravating features are no different to those which would have been taken into account under the former relevant guidelines.  Under those guidelines, set out in the Consolidated Practice Direction at IV. 49.32 A, it is stated:

14. “ A substantial upward adjustment (from 15/16 years) may be appropriate in the most serious cases, for example, those involving a substantial number of murders, or if there are several factors identified as attracting the higher starting point present.  In suitable cases, the result might even be a minimum term of thirty years (equivalent to 60 years) which would offer little or no hope of the offender’s eventual release.  In cases of exceptional gravity, the judge, rather than setting a whole life minimum term, can state that there is no minimum period which could properly be set in that particular case. “

15. Having regard to the principles which I have identified I take the view that the minimum period should be substantially higher than the appropriate starting point.  For the reasons I have given the minimum period I set is one of 40 years less the period of 14 months and six days spent on remand.  I therefore order that the provisions of s.28(5)-(8) of the Crime Sentences Act 1997 apply after the defendant has served that period.

16. I must emphasise that I have not ordered that this defendant will not spend the rest of his life in prison.  The order means that the Parole Board cannot even consider his release on licence until the defendant has spent forty years in prison.  The minimum term of nearly forty years is, as the Practice Statement of 31 May 2002 explained, the equivalent of a fixed term of nearly 80 years.  The order I make offers little or no hope of the defendant’s eventual release.



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