Andrew Partington, aged 28, pleaded to manslaughter.
The facts will no doubt be familiar to you – it was extensively covered in the news. In brief, Partington had a ‘stormy’ relationship with his partner. Partington cut two gas pipes in his house, because his partner had left him and taken their two children. It was reported that he had been drinking the previous night and neighbours had heard ‘a row’ between the couple. Sky News reported that Partington had previously been violent to his partner.
He then sent a series of text messages to his partner the night before the explosion. The BBC reported that one said,
“Told you next time you leave, house goes up with me. You left your kids with no dad no home. Goodbye. Boom. Gas pipes cut. Already filled up. Boom.”
Partington then allowed the house to fill with gas overnight. He reportedly claimed that he awoke, turned off the gas and opened the windows. At about 11.20 am, he lit a cigarette and the residual gas in the house ignited, causing an explosion.
The explosion resulted in two-year-old Jamie Heaton’s death. Jamie and his mother lived next door to Partington. Jamie’s mother survived the blast as she had gone into the back yard. The court heard that the explosion ‘obliterated’ Partington’s house and the house next door. Partington suffered 40% burns and a broken back – he is reportedly still suffering from his injuries. The blast caused around £1.2m worth of damage and for 175 houses to be evacuated.
As usual, we don’t have the benefit of the sentencing remarks. We are therefore left with the news reports which as always, should be treated with care.
Mr Justice Hamblen said: “The resulting scene of the devastation resembled a bomb site and in some senses it was. It was in effect a bomb that you created and detonated.
“As a result of your reckless actions you have caused the death of Jamie. You have taken away his life and a large part of his parents and siblings’ lives.”
The BBC reported that the Judge accepted that Partington had had a change of heart, but noted that lighting a cigarette was highly reckless.
Partington was imprisoned for 10 years. This includes a discount for his plea of guilty, which we understand was entered in November. Assuming that the credit was 1/3, the sentence after a trial would have been around 13 years.
Of course, no sentence of a court can properly reflect that a life – and such a young one at that – has been lost. Sentences must however reflect that fact that a person has died (for example, a careless driving sentence will be increased to reflect the loss of life, where the driving is equally culpable).
So, how does this fit in with other manslaughter sentences? Well that is a difficult question. Manslaughter comprises the widest range of sentences of any offence before the courts – from a conditional discharge to life imprisonment. Sentences must reflect the particular facts of the case and because of the innumerable ways in which a manslaughter offence can be committed, the phrase ‘sentences are fact specific’ applies here more than ever.
There may be some assistance provided by manslaughter by fire cases. Making the appropriate modifications for the fact that Jamie was an unintended victim, the fact that Partington attempted to clear the house of gas and of course his plea.
10 years doesn’t seem excessive to me.