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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 2789 (QB)

Case No: 2004/172/MTS
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 19/12/2006

Before :

THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE OPENSHAW
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Between :

 Regina Prosecution
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 Mark Robert NEGUS Defendant

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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.


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Mr. Justice OPENSHAW :
 

1. On the 8 February 2002, following his plea of guilty to the offence of murder before His Honour Judge David Mellor, after a trial at the Crown Court at Norwich, Mark Robert Negus was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment. The judge recommended that he serve 10 years before being considered for release by the Parole Board. In due course, that recommendation was considered by Lord Woolf CJ but he increased the recommendation to 11 years. However, before the Secretary of State set the minimum term which he must serve, the process became subject to the new regime introduced by section 269 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.  He is now an ‘existing prisoner’ within the meaning of Schedule 22 of the Act; the Secretary of State has referred the matter to the High Court under paragraph 6 of that schedule for the minimum term to be set, pursuant to section 28(5) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997.
2. In addition to the matters originally before the court, I have read the representations from Dobson Hillman, solicitors, and by John McNally of counsel, on his behalf. He has not sought an oral hearing.
3. The facts as found by the judge were these. In  April 2001 both Bonner and Negus and their victim Carl Tunnell lived in a "half-way" house at 9 York Road, Great Yarmouth, a property provided by the Herring Trust for young men with a ‘chequered history’ – as the judge put it. Their co-defendant Nigel Jacobs lived in another Trust property at 5 York Road; he was a regular visitor to no.9.
4. In the early hours of the 21s' April 2001, in the course of an argument between them Bonner, Negus and Jacobs, formed the view that Tunnell was a paedophile; in fact there is not the slightest reason to think that their suspicions were well founded. As a result of their belief, they very severely beat him up, ‘without pity’, as the judge described the attack. The attack lasted over three hours. The wretched victim, was attacked in the kitchen, the backyard and in the hall. He was attacked with feet, fists and chair legs. All joined in the assault. The deceased was unable to properly to defend himself.
5. Since Bonner and Negus pleaded guilty and only Jacobs was tried (he was in the event acquitted of murder and convicted of manslaughter), the judge understandably found it difficult to make findings of fact against Bonner and Negus. The written basis of plea put forward on behalf of Bonner and accepted by the Crown – and by the court - was based on the proposition that all three were equally involved in the extended assault although it was conceded that Bonner had "lost it".
6. Section 276 and Schedule 22 of the Act are intended to ensure that no one being sentenced under this procedure receives a more severe sentence than they would have done if the Secretary of State had fixed the minimum term at the time. In order to ensure that the minimum term which I fix does not exceed what the Secretary of State would have fixed, I have applied the guidelines in force at the time, which I take to be those given by Lord Bingham CJ in his letter to the judges dated 10 February 1997 (conveniently set out in paragraphs IV.49.18 – 21 of the Practice Direction of 31 May 2002 (as amended)). These set a starting point of 14 years. Of course, I also have had regard to the matters set out in section 269 and in Schedule 21 of the Act.
7. It is an aggravating feature that this was a determined attack by three men, with a variety of weapons over a long period of time.
8. On his behalf, he did plead guilty at the earliest opportunity; this is very rare in murder cases and should attract a substantial discount. He has now sought to withdraw his plea and he cannot therefore seek to rely upon his remorse; his pending application for leave to appeal is – it seems to me - irrelevant to this exercise. He is aged 39; he has a bad record for offences of dishonesty but no previous convictions for offences of violence. The offence was not pre-meditated nor was there any intention to kill. I consider it highly relevant to culpability that he has an ‘extremely low’ IQ (below the bottom percentile) (see the report from Dr Halsey, a Chartered Consultant Psychologist).
9. I should make clear that, although the family of the victim have been asked if they wish to make a Victim personal Statement, they have decided not to do so.
10. I do not think that I can give a particular value to each of these competing matters, the better course is surely to consider the cumulative effect of all the circumstances of this case to which I have referred. The proper starting point is 14 years; there should be a significant reduction on account of his timely plea and his very low intelligence; however, I do not think that the 10 years as recommended by the judge properly reflects the severity and persistence of the attack. Accordingly, I fix the minimum term at 11 years, as recommended by the Lord Chief Justice. Had this murder been committed now, I do not doubt that this sentence would be longer but I must loyally apply what I take to be the conventional tariff of the time.
11. I order, as I am required to do, that the term of 11 years is reduced by the period of 9 months and 14 days which he spent in custody before being sentenced. 
12. I am anxious that this sentence is not misunderstood or mis-reported. The sentence is – and remains – a sentence of imprisonment for life. The defendant may not even be considered for release until he has served at least 11 years. That is not to say that he will then be released; indeed he will be detained unless and until the Parole Board is satisfied that he no longer resents a risk to the public. Even if the Parole Board decides then or at some time in the future to authorise his release, he will be upon licence which will extend for the rest of his life.

 


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