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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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Neutral Citation Number: [2006] EWHC 767 (QB)

Case No: 2004/435/MTS

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 12th April 2006


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Andrew Paul CAIRNEY for the setting of a minimum term pursuant to Schedule 22, paragraph 3, of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
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I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A paragraph 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this decision and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.


Judgment Approved by the court for handing down
(subject to editorial corrections) R v. A. Cairney

The Hon Mr. Justice Holland:
1. This life sentence prisoner received no notification from the Secretary of State prior to the 18th December 2003 as to the minimum period to be served before release on licence.
 The trial judge, Morland J., is now in retirement; in his place I am asked to make an order under S. 269 Criminal Justice Act 2003 determining that minimum period – see also Schedule 22, paragraph 6 and S. 276.
3. As to the facts I refer to the report of Morland J. of the 8th April 2003.
4. I am required by S. 269(3) and Schedule 21 to assess the seriousness of the murder.  Further, by Schedule 22, paragraph 7 I am additionally required to have regard to the contemporaneous recommendation to the Secretary of State of the trial judge, whilst by paragraph 8 I am required, in effect, to compare a current assessment with that which the Secretary of State would have been likely to make.
5. As to a starting point I am satisfied that such is 15 years, see Schedule 21, paragraph 5.  As to factors that aggravate or mitigate I refer to the report.  Left to myself I would have regarded the peculiarly horrific mode of killing as justifying an increase to, say 18 years.  However, the trial judge, with much better acquaintance with the case recommended 16 years.  I am required to have regard to his assessment and in the event I can see no reason to dissent from it yet further I have no reason to think that the Secretary of State would not have adopted it.
6. I am further required by S. 240 to make a direction as to the number of the days during which the prisoner was in custody on remand that should count as having been served as part of the minimum period.  In all he was in custody for some 192 days and I direct that such were served as part of the minimum period so that the period to be served as from conviction is 15 years and 173 days.
7. I should add that I have read and taken into account:
a. the representations of Mr. Purdon on behalf of the prisoner (the content of which serves to make oral submissions unnecessary) and;
 b. the victim impact statements.


Facts from Trial Judge report Andrew John Cairney

6. Description of the offence.

Mr and Mrs Westhead, the defendant and his partner had all worked in nursing capacities in Fleetwood Hospital.  The defendant was a psychiatric nurse.  Mr Westhead had an affair with the defendant’s partner.  The Westhead marriage broke up.  Mrs Westhead brought divorce proceedings but remained in the matrimonial home, 67 Gordon Road Fleetwood.  In December 2000 the defendant moved into 67 Gordon Road and became Mrs Westhead’s partner.  There was an acrimonious dispute as to the ownership of 67 Gordon Road.  This was settled in May 2002 with Mrs Westhead and the defendant becoming joint tenants and joint mortgagers of 67 Gordon Road.  Meanwhile both Mrs Westhead and the defendant stopped working at Fleetwood Hospital.  Mrs Westhead had a nervous breakdown, was off work for 7 months, on anti depressants but according to her consultant psychiatrist not suicidal.  In January 2002 she started work at a Mini Market where her employer and others described her as very happy.
The defendant in July 2002 became a van-delivery driver.  On 4th September 2002 he was suspended on allegations of theft.  He was due to face disciplinary proceedings at 2. p.m. on the 6th September.  He spent most of the 5th and the morning of the 6th September in a betting shop losing money.
On the morning of the 6th September he drove Mrs Westhead to work, then filled a petrol can with petrol, he returned home and poured some of the petrol into a bucket.  At 12.30. p.m. he collected Mrs Westhead from work and drove home.  At about 1.p.m neighbours heard a row followed by screams and then black smoke coming from the backyard of 67 Gordon Road.  Within a couple of minutes neighbours, the Fire Brigade and paramedics arrived.  Mrs Westhead was burning.  85% of her body surface was severely burnt.  Despite being in terrible pain she was lucid and coherent telling neighbours, firemen and the paramedics that the defendant had poured petrol over her and set her alight.  As an ambulance drove her to hospital where she died on the 9th September, the defendant drove off to Scotland to his sister’s house.  On 7th September his sister contacted the Police and the defendant was arrested and interviewed.
The defendant who gave evidence in accordance with his replies in interview said he was inside the house when he heard Mrs Westhead screaming “Andy”, “Andy”.
He went into the backyard.  She was alight.  In panic he filled the bucket, which contained petrol with water and threw it over her to extinguish the flames but instead it increased the inferno. 
His defence was that Mrs Westhead set herself alight in a suicide attempt or it was an accident.

7. Legal issues before the Court.
Dying declarations, res gestae, theoretically proven following something said by Mrs Westhead in the row.

9. Trial Judge’s view on tariff (the period of years to be served in custody necessary to meet the requirements of retribution and general deterrence), indicating the factors which aggravate and mitigate the offences.
16 years


Signed: Michael Morland

Date:  8th April 2003



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