On Christmas Eve 2012 Alan Greaves was on his way to St Saviour’s Church in Sheffield when he was attacked by Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster with a pickaxe. It was a short, but frenzied attack, and he died three days later. This was also a motiveless attack – the Prosecution described it in Court by saying that “they were stalking the streets of High Green looking for someone to attack“.
On 19th July 2013, Mr Bowling was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 25 years. Mr Foster received a nine year sentence.
Why the difference? The key distinction is that Mr Bowling, who lead the attack, pleaded guilty to murder whereas Mr Foster had a trial where he was cleared of murder, but convicted of manslaughter. It is not clear on what basis, but manslaughter is always treated as being less serious.
The sentencing remarks have not been released yet (although we expect them to be). Mr Bowling had to get a life sentence (as it’s the only sentence allowed in law for murder), the only issue would be what would be the length of the tariff – the minimum period of time he has to stay in prison before he can apply to the Parole Board to release him.
The Judge would have taken a starting point of 30 years and reduced it by 5 years because of Mr Bowling’s plea of guilty. While it is clear that this was a brutal and horrific attack, it is not clear from the news reports why the Judge took a 30 year starting point.
The likely explanation is this – the Judge would have taken a starting point of 25 years because the attack was with a weapon that Mr Bowling had with him intending to use. Because of the horrific nature of the attack and Mr Bowling’s previous convictions, the starting point was increased to 30 years, before being reduced back to 25 because of the plea of guilty.
Is that correct? It is hard to say, although many of the aggravating features would be taken into account in the higher starting point and we would have expected a slightly lower tariff. It is likely that there will be an appeal, but Mr Bowling shouldn’t get his hopes up too much.
What about Mr Foster? He will serve 4½ years a fraction of what Mr Bowling will. Is that right? It’s difficult to know whether Mr Foster’s sentence was right as we don’t know why the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, but the sentence is in the right range of what one would expect.
Many people looking at the sentences may find it surprising that there is such a big difference between the two men. The reason is that while all sentences have increased in length in the last twenty years, sentences for murder have increased at a greater rate that others.