On 29th January, Karl Bestford was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his landlord. As usual, the sentencing remarks have not been published, so we have to work on the news reports.
The murder was a brutal one. The landlord, Simon Meech, had gone to meet Mr Bestford to collect rent. There was an argument which resulted in Mr Bestford stabbing him eleven times. He then set about dismembering Mr Meech’s body, severing parts of his legs and was in the process of cutting his head off before, it seems, he fled the scene. Shortly afterwards he called the police saying “I’ve slaughtered him, I don’t know what to do.”
The minimum term was set at 22 years – why is that? And is it right?
Given the circumstances of the arrest, it is not clear what defence was run (but we know there was a trial), presumably some issue of diminished responsibility. In any event, the jury convicted him and so there was no credit for a plea of guilty. We also do not know whether Mr Bestford had been in trouble before. He is 35, so not particularly young or especially old.
Against that backdrop, was the starting point 15 years or 30 years? It is not clear, but probably 15 years. The obvious aggravating features is the dismemberment of the victim’s body and the frenzied nature of the attack. Does this justify the increase of seven years?
It may be that the natural reaction to an offence of this kind is that the perpetrator is extremely dangerous and should not be released for a very long time. It may also be that that reaction is correct. However, the dangerousness of the offender is catered for in the sentence of life imprisonment and has no role to play in the setting of the minimum term.
It is not clear what mitigating features, if any, were present. It would seem that the brutality of the murder lead to the increase. In the absence of any further details, it is difficult to say that the minimum term is too long. It is likely that there will be an appeal which will give us all a lot more to work with.