We have previously looked at the case of Isabella Storey and John Nimmo who pleaded guilty on 8th January 2014 to an offence under s127 Communications Act 2003. They were sentenced on 24th January after pre-sentence reports had been obtained.
The tweets that were sent have not been published, but a flavour of them can be obtained from the press reports as well as the sentencing remarks:
“Isabella Sorley… Between 10.14 and 14.46 on 28TH July you posted 10 tweets in an account your own name and traceable to you. These are a background, and not the subject of the charge. Between 02.25 and 02.55 (so in the early hours) of 30TH July 2013 you posted six more tweets on another account … In summary these tweets said: “Fuck off and die…you should have jumped in front of horses, go die; I will find you and you don’t want to know what I will do when I do… kill yourself before I do; rape is the last of your worries; I’ve just got out of prison and would happily do more time to see you berried; seriously go kill yourself! I will get less time for that; rape?! I’d do a lot worse things than rape you.
John Nimmo, you posted 20 tweets on the topic. They started on 27TH July at 22.31 and continued until 29TH July at 11.50. Five different accounts were used. Among the messages were: “ Ya not that gd looking to rape u be fine; I will find you; come to geordieland (Newcastle) bitch; just think it could be somebody that knows you personally; the police will do nothing; rape her nice ass; could I help with that lol; the things I cud do to u; dumb blond bitch.”
It is presumed that these are a fair representation of the tweets that were sent.
Here, the sentencing remarks have been published, which is a very welcome development.
The District Judge was guided by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines (page 40 for the s127 offence). You can see that these are fairly out of date (referring mainly to telephone calls), but by analogy it is in the highest category – “Single call where extreme language used and substantial distress or fear caused to receiver; OR One of a series of similar calls as described in box above“.
The starting point is 6 weeks custody with a range of a Community Order to 12 weeks custody. Because these were a series of tweets, a sentence towards the top end of the bracket would be expected.
The Judge noted that the effect on Ms Criado-Perez and Ms Creasy was substantial. An aggravating feature was the fact that the tweets were anonymous.
There was a further aggravating feature in relation to Ms Sorley. This was the fact that she has 25 convictions since November 2010, all alcohol related, and most for being drunk and disorderly.
The Judge was rather hesitant in ascribing any mitigating features to either of the defendant.
After giving full credit for the plea of guilty, Ms Sorley was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment and Mr Nimmo 8 weeks. The difference is primarily due to the fact that Mr Nimmo had not been in trouble before.
The Judge then considered whether the sentence could be suspended, but concluded “the serious harm caused by the offending behaviour makes it inappropriate to impose anything other than an immediate custodial sentence“.
A Compensation Order was made in the sum of £800 for each defendant. There was no order for costs and the Judge stated (correctly) that the Victim surcharge does not apply when a Magistrates Court passes an immediate custodial sentence.
The sentences are, on the guidelines, understandable and about right. I do have concerns about the sentence however.
I think that the Judge was wrong to rule out suspending either case. Both are clearly people with ‘issues’ and for Ms Sorley there is a clear history of alcohol misuse that needs tackling. Mr Nimmo has never been in trouble before and the court’s should be very reluctant to send a first time offender to prison, particularly for such a short period of time.
The reasons given by the Judge aren’t particularly great. There’s no rule that a sentence can’t be suspended if the offence is serious, and I would suggest that whilst it is a perhaps a factor, it is one of many (and not the most important one).
One problem is that whilst suspended sentences under the Criminal Justice Act have been in force for ten years, it is notable that the Court of Appeal have not given any real guidance as to when a sentence should be suspended. Cynically this is to stop a flood of appeals. And whilst that may be understandable, this is an area that is in need of guidance.
Both these are people who should have had far greater consideration given to whether the sentence should be suspended and it seems to me that this is little point (as well as being counter-productive) in ordering a term of imprisonment to immediate. It may be that there will be an appeal, and we will see what happens there.
I’m also concerned as to the compensation. The Judge recognised that it will take about three years for the payment to be made. as a general rule of thumb it should be possible for the financial penalties to be paid in a year. It is also very rare to order compensation to be paid by someone who is not well off if they are being sent to prison.