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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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Judgment Approved by the court for handing down

Neutral Citation Number: [2007] EWHC 1069 (QB)

Case No: 2004/838/MTS

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
(Sitting at Bristol Crown Court)

Date: 16/05/2007

Before :

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Between :

  Michael Little  

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Approved  Judgment

Mr Justice Beatson :
1. On 30 October 2003 Michael Little, born 28 June 1980, was convicted of the murder of Rachel Moran, then aged 21, in the Crown Court in Hull.  The trial judge, Hooper J, sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment, and, on 27 November 2003, recommended that he should not be considered by the Parole Board for release on licence until he had served a period of 25 years imprisonment. By the date of the judge’s recommendation the provisions of Schedule 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (“the 2003 Act”) were about to come to force. It was no doubt for this reason that the Lord Chief Justice did not comment on the recommendation and the Secretary of State has not fixed a minimum term in respect of the defendant. The matter comes before me pursuant to Schedule 22 for the determination of a minimum term.
The Facts:

2. The material facts can be summarised as follows from the description of the offence and its circumstances given by the judge when making his recommendation:
The deceased was killed by the defendant in his flat which was 200 metres from her flat. She did not know the defendant. She encountered him near his flat when walking home in the early hours of New Years Day 2003 from her parents' home. It is not possible to say with any degree of certainty how she came to be in his flat. The evidence pointed strongly to the conclusion that she wanted to get home and she had promised her mother that she would ring on getting home. On the other hand, there were no pressure points to suggest that she had been physically grabbed and moved into the defendant's flat and there was no evidence that the defendant had, at that time a weapon which he could have used to frighten her into the flat. She was picked out on CCTV footage close to her flat at about 2.17 am in the morning. At this time she was still alone. Her mother rang her on her mobile phone at what the mother said was about 2.15am and received no reply. It seems very unlikely from all the evidence in the case that the deceased would have responded to that call if she had been able to do so. Allowing for some latitude in the time given by her mother for the phone call, it seems very likely that she was in a position where she was unable to answer the phone before entering the defendant's flat or very shortly after.

The deceased was stabbed to death by the defendant using a knife from his kitchen. There were some twenty thrusts with the knife. He attacked her from behind stabbing her first in the back. During the infliction of these wounds she was struggling. One thrust of the knife went right through the body. Given that ribs were cut, severe force must have been used. Having stabbed her in the body, he then stabbed her a large number of times in the area of the back of the head. By this time it was likely that she was no longer moving.

Vaginal swabs and the deceased's revealed the presence of semen which DNA analysis showed had come from the defendant. Hooper J  found as a fact when passing sentence that intercourse had taken place without her consent. He stated that it was not possible to be sure whether   intercourse took place before or after death, but it seems likely that it took place after death given that she did not respond to the telephone call from her mother, failed to answer any further call from her mother and failed to phone her mother to say that she was alright. The defendant only mentioned intercourse after the DNA results were communicated to him.

Having killed the deceased, he then "stuffed" her body into a small locked cupboard just outside his flat. Thereafter he threw a number of her personal items into a nearby watercourse known locally as a drain. After divers found those items, the officer in overall charge of the case decided to search all the houses within a mile of the deceased's flat. On the first day of those searches, namely 28 January, three police officers searched the defendant's flat. Having been asked to do so he provided a key to the cupboard and the body was found, already partly decomposed. While in the flat the defendant had a conversation with a police constable during which he admitted stabbing the deceased. Later that day he accepted that the officer had properly recorded what he had said by way of admission, subject to minor corrections. He said that he had stabbed her after she had cut him on the arm. When the defendant was seen by the doctor that day he could find no injury and the officer who interviewed him could see no sign of a mark.

The defendant was later to say that he had made these admissions only because he was frightened for his life and that of his family, as a result of threats made by Fuller, a man who was in the flat at the time of his arrest but had left before his admission.

In his first defence statement he admitted one stab wound and said that Fuller had come into the flat after the first stab wound and had then stabbed the deceased to death. In his second defence statement, prepared at the outset of the trial, he said that he had returned home to find the deceased and Fuller in the flat . He had had intercourse with the deceased. Fuller had become enraged and, for reasons which were not clear, had stabbed her to death. In the trial, during cross-examination of Fuller and his family and in giving evidence, the defendant attributed responsibility for the killing to Fuller. By their verdict the jury disbelieved that account.
After his initial admissions the defendant declined to answer any questions both after his arrest and when he was re-interviewed in April after the DNA findings.

Although on 31 January he told a fellow prisoner that he had been drunk at the time, the defendant accepted in evidence that alcohol played no part in what happened. Although he had been drinking earlier in the evening he, on his account, had been sick a number of times and, in any event, it had taken him a substantial time to walk home.

As the witness impact statements showed, the death of Rachel Moran had, continues to have and will have for the foreseeable future a devastating effect on her family and her boyfriend with whom she shared a flat. The defendant had no relevant previous convictions. At the time he had been prescribed medication for depression. This did not feature as a relevant matter in the trial. Apart from that there was no history of any mental illness.

3. The trial judge stated that there were no legal issues or medical considerations before the court. In the light of the account given by the defendant about the deceased cutting him on his arm, the judge left the defence of provocation to the jury albeit that, in evidence, he denied any argument with the deceased. The jury rejected the defence of provocation.
4. In making his recommendation the judge observed: 
" In my view the proper starting point is one of 16 years. Although the killing was not premeditated there are the following aggravating features: Rachel's multiple injuries, a concealment of the body so that for 28 days family and friends were in a position of not knowing whether Rachel was alive or dead. Although the fact that the defendant pleaded not guilty cannot be an aggravating factor, it seems to me that blaming an innocent third party for the death of Rachel is an aggravating factor showing a total lack of concern for the truth and a total lack of remorse. The defendant's account that it was Fuller who had killed Rachel attracted a huge amount of publicity in the local press and must have caused him and his family a considerable amount of distress. Apart from his age, there are no mitigating features."
The proceedings
5. The defendant has not replied to any of the letters asking if he wished to make representations. Neither has he responded to the office’s letter asking whether he wishes to seek an oral hearing. I have before me statements dated 7 May and 22 June 2004 from the parents of the deceased. I have considered these and the statements by them which were considered by the judge. When sentencing the defendant to life imprisonment, the judge referred to the fact that he would have to make a recommendation and invited the defendant’s counsel to make submissions. I have also considered what was said in response to this invitation.
6. In determining the seriousness of this offence I have paid close regard not only to section 269(5) (which came into force on 18 December 2003) but also to the trial judge's recommendation. Furthermore, I have been careful not to impose a term which is greater than that which under the practice followed by the Secretary of State before December 2002  the Secretary of State would have been likely to have set. This murder was committed on 11 January 2003 (i.e. after May 2002) and as a result the best guide is that in Practice Directions (Crime: Life Sentences) [2002] WLR 2870 ("the Practice Direction") issued on 31 May 2002. In summary, under that indication 12 years is the "normal" starting point for the killing of an adult victim arising from a quarrel or loss of temper known to each other. In the case of cases characterised by specified features making the crime especially serious a higher starting point of 15 to 16 years is indicated.
7. Applying those principles, I consider that the extensive and multiple injuries to the deceased and the severity of the force used in the attack mean that the appropriate starting point is the 15 to 16 years “higher starting point”. The defendant’s concealment of the body for 28 days, and the fact that he blamed an innocent party for the murder with the consequent adverse publicity in the local press and distress to that innocent person are significant aggravating features. The fact that non-consensual intercourse took place is also an aggravating factor. If this occurred before death it was rape, and if, as the judge considered was likely, it took place after death, it was grotesque sexual maltreatment. The Practice Direction states that “a substantial upward adjustment may be appropriate in the most serious cases, for example, … if there are several factors identified as attracting the higher starting point present”. In this case, depending on how one categorises the factors, there are either two factors attracting a higher starting point and three additional aggravating factors or five factors attracting a higher starting point.
8. I turn to mitigating factors. Although the judge stated that “apart from [the defendant’s] age, there are no mitigating features”, he had referred to the fact that “the killing was not premeditated” in considering the starting point. (The Practice Direction lists lack of premeditation as one of the mitigating factors relating to the offence).
9. In my view, although the judge’s recommendation is severe, the seriousness of the aggravating factors indicates a minimum period significantly higher than the 16 years starting point notwithstanding the defendant’s age at the time of conviction and his lack of premeditation. In my view the recommendation of 25 years appropriately reflects the aggravating and mitigating factors rehearsed above and is no greater than that which before December 2002 the Secretary of State would have been likely to set in the light of the indications in the Practice Direction. Accordingly, I set the minimum period at 25 years. From that term the period of the defendant’s remand in custody, namely 9 months is to be deducted.



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