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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: [2007] EWHC 124 (QB)

Case No: 2004/208/MTS

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 30/01/2007

Before :



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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.



The Honourable Mr Justice Treacy :
1. This Defendant is Peter Skerry.  His date of birth is 18 March 1978.  In October 2002 Mr Skerry was convicted by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court of the offence of murder.  On 11 October 2002 His Honour Judge Roberts sentenced Mr Skerry to life imprisonment. 
2. The Judge subsequently recommended that Skerry should serve a minimum term of 12 years before he could be considered for release by the Parole Board.  Lord Woolf CJ endorsed the Trial Judge’s recommendation “with some hesitation”. 
3. I have considered the Trial Judge’s report, the transcript of mitigation, the judge’s sentencing remarks, and a Victim Impact Statement submitted on behalf of the deceased’s family.  The Defendant has not made any submissions to me, but I am satisfied that he has been given the opportunity so to do. 
4. The facts of the case are as follows.  The deceased and two friends had been out drinking and were on their way home.  In the early hours of 3 May 2002 they passed the front garden of the home of the Defendant’s mother.  The Defendant was standing in the front garden.  The Defendant and the deceased had not known each other previously. 
5. The Defendant shouted something at the deceased who shouted words back to the effect of “what did you say”.  At that the Defendant went aggressively towards the deceased.  There was a short scuffle on the pavement outside the front garden.  The Defendant was on top of the deceased who had gone down on the pavement.  During the course of that scuffle the deceased was stabbed and the Defendant made his getaway and was not arrested until the following day. 
6. The Defendant gave various versions of what had happened.  In interview he claimed that the events were nothing to do with him and that he had not been there.  Then, in a Defence Case Statement, he claimed that he was defending himself and that the deceased had attempted to stab him with a knife which had been in the possession of the deceased.  He claimed that during the struggle which ensued the deceased was stabbed with his own knife. 
7. A further version was put forward in an amended Defence Case Statement which was lodged on the first day of the trial.  In this the Defendant claimed that the deceased had been a drug supplier to him and that in effect the deceased had come round with others to enforce a drugs debt.  The Defendant’s claim was that he feared for his safety and so he left his mother’s house armed with the knife.  There was an initial scuffle which did not involve the knife but the deceased pursued the matter.  That led the Defendant to draw the knife believing he was going to be under attack by a number of men.  The Defendant jabbed the knife forwards to deter those men and there came a point when the deceased accidentally came into contact with the knife and that was how he had sustained his fatal injuries.
8. The Jury plainly rejected each of those accounts.  The Trial Judge was sure that there was no question that the deceased had been a drug supplier to the Defendant and he was sure that the two men had not known one another in the past.  In effect, the Trial Judge was sure that the version recited earlier in this judgment was the correct sequence of events and that the Defendant’s various accounts were untrue.
9. There was a single stab wound which was described as having been of moderate force.  It entered the body of the deceased to a depth of about 5 ¼ inches.  It cut the iliac artery and the cause of death was the stab wound with associated loss of blood and shock.  This offence appears to have been motiveless.  The encounter between the Defendant and the deceased appears to have been a chance encounter. 
10. There are no medical or psychiatric considerations in this case.  The Defendant was a man with quite a substantial criminal record involving some 50 offences recorded on some 18 separate occasions.  He was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in June 1992, of robbery in February 1996, of two assaults on the Police in September 1997, of an assault on a person assisting a constable in January 1998, and of common assault in October 1998.  He also had a large number of convictions for dishonesty or motor-related matters.  At the date of the offence the Defendant was 24 years old. 
11. The following appear to me to be aggravating features.  Firstly, the Defendant was in possession of a knife which appears to have been readily available to him.  It was a knife with a substantial blade of about 6 to 7 inches in length.  Also under the heading of aggravating features must come the Defendant’s previous record, and in particular his convictions in the past for offences of violence.  It is right, however, to note that none of those offences of violence appears to have been anything like as serious as this matter.  I therefore do not attach great weight to them.  As to mitigation, the Trial Judge was prepared to deal with the matter on the basis that the Defendant had not had an intention to kill, as opposed to an intention to do grievous bodily harm.  The circumstances also demonstrate actions which are relatively spontaneous and lacking pre-meditation.  The Defendant’s age at the time of the offence is also of some mitigating effect. 
12. The trial was contested and so no allowance can be made for a guilty plea.  The Defendant’s lying accounts and besmirching the name and reputation of the deceased, plainly show a total lack of remorse.  There was no provocation, either in the legal sense or in its non-technical sense. 
13. In modern times, the starting point for this offence would be one of 15 years.  However, the date of this offence was 3 May 2002 and so the transitional arrangements of s.276 and Schedule 22 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 apply.  In brief, this being a murder committed prior to 18 December 2003 I must not now deal with the matter more severely than would have been the case prior to that date.  The decision in R v Sullivan & Ors [2004] EWCA (Crim) 1762 shows that the best guide to appropriate sentencing practice for a murder committed in May 2002 is Lord Bingham’s letter of 10 February 1997.  This envisages a 14 year starting point for a murder of this type, subject to the explanation given at Paragraph 29 to 34 of Sullivan.. 
14. Left to myself, I would have made a recommendation slightly higher than that made by the Trial Judge and endorsed “with hesitation” by the then Lord Chief Justice.  However, the margin of increase is not so significant that I consider that I should set my view above that of the Trial Judge who will have had the feel of the case.  In my assessment the mitigating factors slightly outweigh the aggravating factors. 
15. Taking account of those matters, I fix the minimum term to be served as one of 12 years from which credit will be given for the period spent in custody on remand, namely the period of 5 months and 4 days.  This does not in fact represent any practical difference to the Trial Judge’s recommendation since credit would have been given administratively under the previous practice.
16. The minimum term is set at 12 years less 5 months and 4 days..

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