Ashley Charles – Appeal against conviction and sentence dismissed

ashley chareles

We have covered the case of Ashley Charles, who was convicted of the murder of Phillip Sherriff and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 14 years on 9th November 2012. Last May we tried to find out a bit more information as to what was happening with any appeal, and were told that there would be a full appeal hearing this year.

Well, on 16th December 2013 the Court of Appeal heard the application to appeal against the conviction, as well as an appeal against the length of the tariff (a factsheet on appeal is here). The judgment is not out yet, but the news reports indicate that the appeal against conviction was (unsurprisingly) dismissed as was, perhaps more surprisingly, the appeal against the sentence.

We will return to this case when the judgment of the Court of Appeal is published. In brief though, the question of whether this was murder or manslaughter was very much one for the jury and the Court of Appeal will always be very reluctant to interfere with what a jury has decided.

The sentence appeal did seem to have a lot more merit as the circumstances were such where a tariff of about 12 years would have been appropriate. It seems that the Court of Appeal said of the trial Judge’s decision that 14 years was the right tariff  “On any view that assessment was a perfectly proper one. We see no grounds for this court to interfere.

This is now, in reality, the end of the legal road for Mr Charles. As stated, we will give a bit more analysis when the judgment is published.

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About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

16 thoughts on “Ashley Charles – Appeal against conviction and sentence dismissed

  1. Bob

    14 years is still very low in my opinion.

    As I said on the other blog, I hope the victims family can now be left alone to rebuild their lives that Mr Charles tore apart and they’re not put through further torment like this by Mr Charles.

      1. Bob

        The jury in that case got it right though on the evidence submitted, it was the evidence which was the problem. It’s unfair to blame the jury in that case IMO. In this case there is no evidence to doubt, it was a fairly clear cut case and the jury got it right.

      2. Lancastrian

        Indeed- and I am very glad that he did. There can be no more talk of a miscarriage of justice. The punishment fits the crime.

      3. Dan Bunting Post author

        I was making the general point that we need a Court of Appeal as mistakes happen, not relating it to this case in particular.

        I haven’t seen any of the evidence in this case, just the news reports. There was no dispute that Mr Charles killed Mr Sherriff, the issues were whether it was in self-defence (unlikely) or whether there was no intention to kill or cause really serious harm (more arguable). I’m not sure the latter issue can be described as ‘clear cut’ as it involved analysing what was going through the mind of someone who was drunk over the course of a couple of seconds in a fast moving event many months before.

        Having followed the case quite closely for this blog, I’m looking forward to reading the judgment.

  2. Betty

    I have followed this case and from what I can see Ashley Charles is not trying to “get out of jail” or deny responsibility, he is simply arguing that he is not a murderer, and is seeking a verdict of manslaughter. He appears to be an ordinary man with everything going for him, who went on a night out and was of previous impeccable character. Why would he want to murder anyone?

    He reacted with tragic circumstances and no one underestimates the impact.

    But is he a murderer? The original trial Judge acknowledged that he did not deliberately smash the bottle and had no intention of causing serious harm. The Judge also acknowledged that he was immediately remorseful. At the Appeal hearing it was acknowledged also that he did not deliberately break the bottle.

    If I compare this to this weeks case at Leeds Crown Court. ( Daily Mail 8th December “Killed by One Punch”) An altercation between two men. One threw a punch at the other. The victim fell and hit his head and died 8 days later. The man who threw the punch was found guilty of manslaughter and got a 3 and a half year sentence. This too was caught on film. The judge in that case said that these cases such as these are very difficult, saying ” it is not suggested that you intended to kill or cause serious harm but the consequences were unintentional and unintended”

    The difference was that the Leeds court case took place in a Country Club in Yorkshire with no celebrities attending, not in London and with no subsequent Facebook campaign. The Bottle Stop campaign was a worthy cause but sadly it rarely discussed just how easily bottles actually do break, so far as I could see. I was brought up in a pub and I know how easily they CAN in fact break.

    I’m truly sorry for Mr Sherriff’s family, it was a tragic loss of life. But in my view, which I am entitled to, and upon the evidence of what I have read, I have to say that Mr Charles is not a murderer. Manslaughter yes, murder no.

    I would also add that I am not related to Mr Charles or have a bias. There will be those I’m sure that disagree with my comments but I have based them on facts from the case . I do not intend to enter into lengthy debate on this site.

    1. Lancastrian

      Betty- you are completely wrong on one fundamental point upon which this conviction hinged. In his remarks after the conviction the judge did say that he did not believe that Charles intended to kill Mr. Sherriff. He did not say that he believed that Charles intended no serious harm by his actions. However as far as the conviction is concerned it is the jury which matters rather than the judge. In order for a jury to convict of murder they need to find that the defendant intended to kill “or cause really serious harm”. That intent may be unpremeditated and may last for only a split second, but if they find the intention was there then murder it is. Subsequent remorse is irrelevant as far as the conviction is concerned, though can be taken into account for the sentencing. My own personal view is that the judge sentenced at the higher end of the spectrum because Charles’ version of events- including a plea of self-defence- was so patently untrue and damaging to the reputation of the victim as to remove any credibility to claims of remorse.

      As for your assumption that the high profile nature of the case affected the outcome, that is nonsense. A fair trial was conducted and subsequently reviewed by four different appeal judges. All agreed that the outcome was fair. There is a world of difference between a death where the victim falls and bangs his head and a one where the victim bleeds to death after being stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle.

  3. Toby

    For all you may be entitled to your view Betty, and I also say this without bias, it is the view of the jurors that is important in this case. They would have sat through all of the evidence and, as I understand it, Mr Charles was judged to have been intent on causing Mr Sherriff serious harm, which was enough to warrant a conviction of murder. Why he would want to do that is also beyond me, but he did and while he is paying a high price, the price Mr Sherriff has paid is far, far greater.
    This is not the thing that I have trouble understanding with this case though, and perhaps Dan (the author) could shed some light on this. As I understand it, during the trial one component of Mr Charles’ defence was based on the idea that Mr Sherriff was the aggressor in the situation and he was merely acting in some sort of self-defence. Having seen some footage of the event on the internet, I don’t think it takes a genius to see that this is a fantasy. Subsequently the idea of self-defence seems to have evaporated in the appeal hearing, although I’m not entirely sure what the appeal was based on, it seems to have been a plea that accepts Charles as the aggressor and was effectively begging for a reduced sentence of manslaughter because he is of impeccable character to that point and, as Betty says, the idea that someone of impeccable character could not possibly find the motivation to commit such a crime. What I don’t understand is, having seen that footage, why did Mr Charles’ barrister not insist that he submit a plea of guilty against the charge?
    Furthermore, why, if a Jury has decided that in spite of impeccable character that Mr Charles could, and indeed did, have such a character as to intend Mr Sherriff serious harm, did the barrister then go on to try and argue the opposite with, I’m assuming, no further submissible evidence?
    The whole thing sounds very strange and, I do wonder, whether the judges may be somehow making fewer allowances given that that Mr Charles has, perhaps, lied in the courtroom and the commentators stating that fourteen years is unprecedented have neglected to take this into account. I would imagine that judges are very harsh on people lying to them and again this adds to my failure to understand why Charles’ barrister would present such a case.

  4. Andrew

    Defence counsel have to suspend their disbelief – I think that’s John Mortimer’s phrase – in what their clients tell them.

  5. Dan Bunting Post author

    Toby – I imagine that what happened was that in the trial the defence was put as self-defence (which would have lead to an acquittal) with the issue of manslaughter as a fall back. Here, those two defences are not inconsistent, as this was manslaughter because of the lack of intent to cause really serious harm.

    As to why he didn’t plead guilty – there is a very fine line between murder and manslaughter. If the prosecution would have accepted a plea to manslaughter (as would sometime happen in a case like this) because of lack of intent, then Mr Charles would have been advised very strongly to take it (and I think he would have done).

    I was slightly surprised that he was convicted of murder. Given that he had never been in trouble before and that this was a spontaneous act that flared up, any intent to cause really serious harm would have been formed in an instant. Mr Charles could probably consider himself unlucky as many juries would have convicted him of manslaughter only.

    Because of the way English law works, there was never any chance of Mr Charles pleading guilty to murder, there would be absolutely no point. Why?

    If he pleaded to murder he would have to get a life sentence. Given that Parliament restricts the credit for a plea of guilty to murder to 1/6, he would have a tariff of 11-12 years. If he was convicted of manslaughter then he would get a derminate sentence of about 9 years (and so would get out after half). And there was an outside chance of an acquittal.

    If it were me, I’d have a trial. Pleading guilty would mean spending at least the next 12, in all probability 13-14 years inside prison and then being on licence for the rest of his life. At least with a manslaughter conviction he would have some hope of re-building his life.

    So, the gap between manslaughter and murder, particularly in a case like this, is so large that a trial was practically inevitable.

  6. Jane Sherriff

    It’s over 22 months now since Phil, my husband, was killed. The completion of the appeal has not brought closure, but it has allowed my family and me to find a little peace in our devastated lives. Unlike most of the people that have been commenting on these threads, I attended both the trial and the appeal hearing. However, unlike some commentating, I’m afraid I have no knowledge of criminal law apart from that that I have been occasionally party to since 4 April 2012. The entire case is tragic, horrific and life changing for so many people. However, it has to be remembered that whatever was said in court (and then blatantly omitted in the appeal papers) there is one man who has no voice in all this and is the most important voice of all. That of my husband. Now everyone involved has lost their hope and that, I can tell you, is a horrible place to be. Unless, like only a few people, you have been witness to this case from beginning to end, I’m afraid that any views posted (however articulate and considered) are merely conjecture.

    1. Andrew

      Jane: all any of us can do is wish you all the very best and offer you our profound sympathy. Only those who have suffered such a loss can understand it.

  7. Shane knowles

    As soon as you lift a bottle above your head the intent is there , you can’t strike some one with a bottle and then cry like a baby saying you did not mean it. Oh yes and of course the the self defence plea was pityful. He did it and now he has to face the consequences. At the start of the night he was a normal guy by the end he was a murderer . In my eyes 14 year is a very soft sentence. He’s a lucky man in 14 years he will get his life back , Jane sheriff and her families lives are ruined forever.

  8. Pingback: Review of 2013 | UK Criminal Law Blog

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