Monthly Archives: March 2014

Silk (Series 3, Episode 6) – The End



So, that’s your lot. Three series of six episodes each, 18 hours of tv in total, and ‘Silk’ bows out. As it does not appear to have been planned (at the time of making) to be the final finale, will everything be wrapped up nicely?



Last week, unusually, the major plot line of the Court part of the episode wasn’t wrapped up in one hour. The major part of this was the murder trial of Sean MacBride.

We left as Sean was having a fight with Clive (who has left the case as a result). The trial carries on with only two silks from Shoe Lane. And then one, as Caroline went AWOL at a crucial time, leaving Amy to take one of the main police officers in chief. Everyone is getting a bit tense and rattled. And Martha keeps making speeches. And the witnesses are over-acting. By a third of the way through it’s turned into a slagging match between everyone in Court.

And as with all good courtroom dramas, there’s a late rabbit out of the hat – here, the gun has turned up in very suspicious circumstances. But it does mean Martha gets a snog. This, however, perks Martha’s brain and she spots a way of proving the bent copper is a bent copper. The bent copper has learnt from Martha and decides the best form of defence when asked difficult questions is to make speeches.

Micky Joy popped up in prison last week, and this week he took more of a centre stage, as the miserable sage of the legal world, with a slight touch of the Mystic Megs.

The two plotlines inevitably inter-twine and get even more silly. I won’t go into to much of that, for fear of spoilers.

Shoe Lane we have :

  1. Who’s going to be head of chambers?
  2. Will Amy Lang be a tenant?
  3. What’s going to happen to Amy’s complaint of sexual harassment?
  4. And finally, and most importantly, what’s going to happy to Billy?

There’s a Star Chamber in full swing, during which Billy’s diagnosis becomes public knowledge. It seems that that has saved the day for him, and it’s all one happy family.

As to who is the next head of chambers? My vote would have gone to Caroline, not just because she’s awesome, but because I’d trust her more on the future of the bar (ie, there is none). Clive wants to turn Shoe Lane into a prosecution only set. Martha is, for once, speechless.

I won’t give you the answers to the four questions above, you’ll have to just watch it and see.



The court room parts were even sillier, the personal drama is still tight though. We will go into more detail with a review of the whole show, to properly put Silk to bed. It deserves that at least. In short though, the Court part got adrift really in Series 3, but the drama part was still there.


Legal inconsistencies :

  • If Sean had actually had a fight with Clive, Martha would probably have had to withdraw as well. Actually, she would have had to withdraw at some stage along this plotline.
  • There is absolutely no way a barrister would sit in a cell with the client and ask her client, half way through a trial, whether he had done the deed. That would be inviting an answer she did not want to hear.
  • Martha (even though she is a silk) would have been stopped long before the end of her cross-examination of the gun expert. She has got a good point about the statistical database. Mind you, Ms Buchan would also have been pushing for a night in the cells.
  • Martha seems to have given up cross-examining and is just making speeches most of the time – she wouldn’t get away with that…
  • …but then if the police officer said what he did about Sean being the guiltiest man in Britain, all hell would break loose. As would also happen if the police officer didn’t tell anyone about the gun being found. Yes, evidence comes to light during the trial, but there still has to be prior notification to the defence. Ditto with Micky Joy’s evidence. And the jacket.
  • The whole plotline about the way that Amy’s complaint was dealt with is so silly that I won’t even go into the problems there…
  • But Amy having £53,000 of debt is, sadly, not at all implausible.
  • All Chambers I know of would have a secret ballot for deciding who the head of chambers is.

Judge criticises CPS for accepting plea to lesser charge


Ricky Fuller, 29 and Aaron Ellwood, 31 were charged with section 18, GBH with intent. It is one of the most serious of the offences against the person and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.


The full facts can be seen in the Daily Mail article. In essence, Fuller and his friend ambushed two men who were waiting for a taxi. They were knocked unconscious and kicked whilst they were on the floor. The victim, who worked with one of the men who was knocked unconscious, chased Fuller and his friend. Upon reaching an alley way nearby, Fuller turned and attacked the victim. He punched him, smashing his jaw in two places. The victim needed extensive facial reconstructive surgery as a result.

It appears that Fuller offered a plea to section 20 GBH/wounding (importantly without intent)– a lesser offence than the section 18 offence. The maximum for section 20 is 5 years imprisonment, with the difference between the two essentially being the intention to cause really serious harm.

The CPS accepted that plea and Fuller fell to be sentenced for the section 20 offence. The maximum sentence was therefore 5 years and not life.


HHJ Coleman sentenced Fuller to 3 years’ imprisonment. The guidelines for section 20 are here at page 8.

The top category – category 1 – has a starting point of 3 years. The Judge must have raised that starting point to something in the region of 4 to 4.5 years. He then will have reduced that for the guilty plea.

Judge’s comments

The Judge said:

‘I go as far as to say that this misjudgement in the prosecutorial process I believe has led to a serious miscarriage of justice in that two men who should have been tried for causing GBH with intent were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges which did not reflect their culpability.’

The CPS denied there had been any misjudgement and said they would be writing to the Judge about his comments.

Should the CPS have acted differently?

The Victims’ Code 2013 states at para 2.12:

The CPS must inform victims of and give reasons for decisions to:

•           discontinue a charge and proceed on another;

•           substantially alter a charge;

•           discontinue all proceedings;   or

•           offer no evidence in all proceedings.

There is no information as to whether the victim was consulted or informed of the reasons to accept the section 20 plea.


We are unable to say much, as the facts are somewhat sparse. However, one would have expected the victim to have been informed of the view of the CPS that a section 20 plea should be accepted.

Based on the information in the article, section 20 doesn’t really seem appropriate. Additionally, there could have been a trial on the section 18 charge with section 20 as an alternative, if the jury weren’t sure that there was an intention to cause really serious injury.

If the maximum sentence was 5 years, why didn’t the judge give him 5 years? Well there are rules about this sort of thing. Where a judge considers the maximum sentence for an offence inadequate, they may do their best to pass a high sentence, but in doing so are often careful to avoid an appeal. In this case, a sentence of 5 years would have been reduced on appeal due to the guilty plea and any other mitigation available.

Perhaps we will hear more about the correspondence between the CPS and the Judge over the coming weeks.

Conor Aldous jailed for theft from triple amputee



Sometimes, a case comes around where you know just by looking at the headlines that someone is going to get clobbered. Such was the case when Conor Aldous was sent to prison on 26th March 2014 for ten months after pleading guilty to theft.

Mr Aldous was acting as the carer for Alex Stringer, who had lost both arms and a leg in Afghanistan is 2011. They had known each other from school. Mr Stringer got married in 2012 and Mr Aldous was the best man. In this period, Mr Aldous had access to Mr Stringer’s bank accounts and used this to steal about £2,500. It seems that Mr Aldous was heavily in debt at the time.



We don’t have the sentencing remarks, but the news reports state that the Judge called it a ‘mean offence’ and noted that it was a breach of trust and that Mr Stringer was vulnerable. The starting point is (as always) the Sentencing Guidelines (page 11).

Here it is a high degree of trust given the circumstances. The value of £2,500 just puts it in second column with a starting point of 2 years with a range of 1-3 years. We know that Mr Aldous pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court and therefore gets the full discount.

We would have thought that the appropriate sentence would have taken a starting point of 1 year (being right at the bottom of the bracket) and increase it slightly because of the amount, and by more for the background circumstances.

This would give a sentence of about 15 months, which is exactly what he did receive (after taking account of the guilty plan). He could have probably got a little bit more, but not much, without an appeal.

Whilst there would normally be careful consideration to suspending a sentence of that length, it is here where the circumstances of the offending comes to the fore. The Judge would have been likely to have thought that a message of clear punishment needed to be sent out, and for that reason the sentence could not be suspended.


Silk (Series 3, Episode 5)


Introduction – (1) That’s all folks!

Not tonight of course, but we were told this week that this series of Silk will be the last … So next week is the last one ever (although the clerks room will get its own Radio spin off).

This series has been a little bit, how shall we say, off the boil/implausible, at least amongst legal watchers. It seemed to have run out of steam a bit. Hopefully it will go out with a bang next week.

And if there is to be a spin-off, can’t we have one featuring Caroline Warwick?

Introduction – (2) Manufactured outrage from Tory MP 

This week we had the spectacle of Bob Neill (a former criminal barrister who should really know better and now MP) complaining to the Daily Mail that the BBC is full of Trotskyites a show about criminal lawyers show criminal lawyers behaving as criminal lawyers behave.

The offending part of last week’s show was as follows : “Barrister Caroline Warwick QC, played by Frances Barber, said: ‘I am sick and tired of being exhausted because there is no legal aid for juniors, which means I stay up all night every night working on complex trials only to be told I’m a fat cat by a government full of the fattest cats in the history of fatness.

We’re used to politicians spouting nonsense and making stuff up when it comes to the Criminal Justice System, but it’s a new development when MPs criticise TV shows for being accurate.

If you want to read a bit more about Bob Neill and his approach to evidence, here’s a good place to start.

But anyway, the show must go on …


Martha’s past comes back to, if not haunt then maybe taunt, her. Sean MacBride is seemingly an old friend, who has been charged with murder. He had a solicitor in the police station who he wasn’t happy with, so he (along with so many others) calls for Martha. Clive points out that this is a bit of a conflict of interest,but hey.

This being Silk, there are no other criminal silks around, and so it’s Caroline Warwick QC who gets the brief for the prosecution. She does a great job of stirring up Martha’s emotions, that have already been knocked off kilter by some revelations from Sean and their past lives.

Meanwhile, Phil Davies is playing a bent solicitor who is seeking to atone for his wrongs (or possibly just get a lower sentence) by shopping all his former clients. This appears to be setting up a plotline for next week.

In other news, Billy is in a philosophical mood – all bananas and God. It’s not a happy clerksroom as Amy Lang’s complaint against Billy comes to a head at the same time as she is applying for tenancy. Billy is up against it with the complaint and so he seeks the best representation – Martha. Martha delicately points out that that is really a conflict too far, even for the BBC.

She seems to have a change of heart though and decides to represent him. In another twist, Clive agrees to represent Amy and goes off to a boxing match with Billy to smooth things over. Somehow Clive ends up being Martha’s junior (this plotline has got a little bit silly).

Clive is off prosecuting a paedophile and he goes in hard for reasons which aren’t clear. In order to force a plea of guilty and get back to being Martha’s conscience he engages in some extremely unethical tactics with his opponent, before going off to help out ‘down the mags’ (going to the Magistrates’ Court to help cover a case). He obviously hasn’t been there for a while as neither he nor Caroline point out the obvious – a Magistrates’ Court can’t grant bail for murder. Luckily the District Judge didn’t grant bail, or that could have got very awkward.

After that, Clive has a quick butchers at Amy who does a very good speech in mitigation to get a Conditional Discharge for a dog stabber. Appropriately, she becomes Shoe Lane’s most junior tenant, so that’s one piece of the puzzle that is resolved now.


This was a bit of a return to form. The plots are still a little bit too far-fetched, but there were some great performances (I thought Jessica Henwick’s Amy was a particularly good portrayal of a pupil) and the various stories were woven together well.

This episode reminds of what Silk does best, and what we will be missing when it finished. See you next week …

Legal inconsistencies :

  • A barrister can actually represent close friends, but it’s not advisable generally. In a case such as this, it is very unlikely that Martha would be taking this case.
  • Prison visits are either in a (small) room, or a communal area (as happened in this case when Sean met Martha at the start), but if they are in a communal area, then there will be more than one conference going on.
  • Bob Neill is not going to be happy – it is pointed out that there is a fixed fee for a police station attendance by a solicitor. This is not completely true – in a limited number of cases, a lawyer can claim more if there are a series of interviews over a long time.
  • Don’t believe the Daily Mail – Micky Joy would not have a cell like he did.
  • Even a silk such as Clive would have to check with the CPS before accepting a plea of guilty.
  • And even in today’s climate a prosecutor would not be trying to persuade the Judge that there is no credit for a plea of guilty.
  • But in the real world the Clive wouldn’t be prosecuting such a case – it would be a junior
  • It’s not clear why the bail application for Sean McBride (for a murder near Heathrow) would be in Woolwich. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that it has transferred there.
  • If a case is listed solely for a bail application (as this appear to have been) then the defendant wouldn’t be likely to be produced at Court. If he was, Clive wouldn’t be having a conference with him in front of another defendant.
  • Having said that, the bail application is in a Magistrates’ Court which cannot grant bail for murder.


Further Reading

‘Supergrasses’ can get big discounts – this is covered by ss71-75 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

Amy would be advised to have a look here for advice on pupillage

Loren Morris jailed for having sex with 8 year old boy over 50 times

Paedophile: Loren Morris, 21, was sentenced to prison after a court found that she had slept with a child 50 times

Loren Morris has been sentenced to imprisonment for two years having been convicted following trial of three counts of sexual activity with a child.  She was also made the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, preventing her from contacting a child under the age of 16 without the consent of the child’s parents.  She was placed on the Sexual Offences Register, where her details will remain for ten years.

HHJ Juckes QC’s sentencing remarks are not available, and so we are reliant on the tabloids for the facts of the case.  It is said that Morris, now aged 21 and a mother, engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim over 50 times in a two year period.  The abuse commenced when Morris was 16 years old, and the victim was 8.  It is said that the victim “bragged” about the offences at school, which led the school to inform the police.


Section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out the offence:

9 Sexual activity with a child

(1) A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if–

(a) he intentionally touches another person (B),

(b) the touching is sexual, and

(c) either–

(i) B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over, or

(ii) B is under 13.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section, if the touching involved–

(a) penetration of B’s anus or vagina with a part of A’s body or anything else,

(b) penetration of B’s mouth with A’s penis,

(c) penetration of A’s anus or vagina with a part of B’s body, or

(d) penetration of A’s mouth with B’s penis,

is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

(3) Unless subsection (2) applies, a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable–

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

Sentencing Guidelines

The sentencing guidelines for the offence can be found here (at page 53).

It appears that the sentencing Judge placed the offence into the second bracket of the guidelines, with a starting point of 2 years and a range of 1 to 4 years.


We know little of the mitigation put forward, and the Judge’s sentencing remarks have not been published, but the Judge was reported as having said:

“I make no secret of the fact your case has given me cause for much consideration.

I have come to the conclusion that due to the concern and embarrassment caused to both you and your family that you will not be offending again, let alone committing sexual offences.

I am also aware of the effect this will have on your baby. I am pleased to hear your parents have started to build bridges with you.

That does not stop the fact though that you had full sexual intercourse with a child when he was eight to
10 years old – by his evidence it was upwards of fifty times.

It seems to me that I am bound to pass an immediate custodial sentence. I take into account what has been said to me and the fact that you stopped the activity yourself.

You realised it was wrong rather than being caught and forced to stop. Therefore my sentence is one of two years. You will serve 12 months in prison before being released on licence.”

It seems likely that this was Morris’s first offence.  Having contested the offences at trial should wouldn’t have received any credit for a guilty plea.  The Guideline notes the following:

The culpability of the offender will be the primary indicator of offence seriousness, and the nature of the sexual activity will provide a guide as to the seriousness of the harm caused to the victim.

Other factors will include:
• the age and degree of vulnerability of the victim – as a general indication, the younger the child, the more vulnerable he or she is likely to be, although older children may also suffer serious and long-term psychological damage as a result of sexual abuse;
• the age gap between the child and the offender;
• the youth and immaturity of the offender; and
• except where it is inherent in an offence, any breach of trust arising from a family relationship between the child and the offender, or from the offender’s professional or other responsibility for the child’s welfare, will make an offence more serious.

Morris’s defence barrister made reference to her “immaturity”; it’s likely that she would have been sentenced more leniently given the fact that the offending commenced when she was a child herself, albeit the disparity between her age (16 years old at the start of the offending) and the age of the victim (8 years old) is likely to have been an aggravating feature.  It’s also notable that the Judge referred to the fact that Morris “realised it was wrong”, which suggests that this was something she came to recognise, rather than something that she knew all along.  Again, we can speculate that this may reflect back to her immaturity, as referred to by her counsel.

It’s been reported that Morris’s barrister mitigated for a community order or suspended sentence.  On the face of it, even with a first time offender, a community penalty would be a very lenient sentence.  Custodial sentences of up to two years can be suspended, and so it’s understandable that defence counsel would be seeking such a sentence, particularly given the fact that Morris has a child which, presumably, she is carer for.  In my view it’s understandable that the Judge did not suspend the sentence; offences of this nature will usually warrant a custodial sentence.

Questions have been asked as to whether she received a more lenient sentence because she is a female. In our experience the view that female offenders receive lesser sentences than male offenders committing the same offence does not stand up to scrutiny. A sentence has to reflect all of the factors including (as is common with female offenders) the fact that they are the primary carer of children, which may be cause for reducing a sentence. It appears that Morris was sentenced firmly within the guidelines (and so there is little to suggest she benefited from a more lenient sentence on the basis she is a female). It’s unlikely we’ll see an appeal in this case.

A view from…an undercover cop – Part II

Honey traps

The most famous case of an Undercover Officer acting as an agent provocateur was the case of Colin Stagg and “Lizzie James”. On 15th July 1992, 23 year old Rachel Nickell was walking on Wimbledon Common with her then two year old son. Rachel was attacked in front of her son. She had her throat cut, was repeatedly stabbed and sexually assaulted. The attack caused a public outcry which placed a great deal of pressure on the Metropolitan Police to find the culprit as quickly as possible.

The investigation quickly centred on Colin Stagg, an unemployed man from Roehampton who was known to walk his dog on Wimbledon Common. There was no forensic evidence at the scene linking Stagg to the killing so the Police had a Criminal Psychologist draw up a profile of the suspect. On receiving the profile, the senior Officers involved in the case decided that the profile fitted Colin Stagg and with the assistance of the Criminal Psychologist they set up Operation Ezdell in an attempt to have Stagg either eliminate himself or admit the crime.

A female Undercover Officer Using the name “Lizzie James” made contact with Stagg. Over a 5 month period, “Lizzie James” feigned a romantic interest in Stagg and communicated with him in person, in writing and over the phone. Much of this contact carried from “Lizzie” contained violent sexual fantasies in an attempt to encourage Stagg to confess to the crime. Stagg professed some violent sexual fantasies of his own which he later claimed to have made up in an attempt to keep “Lizzie” interested.

The Police would later release a taped conversation between “Lizzie” and Stagg in which “Lizzie” claimed to enjoy hurting people, to which Stagg mumbled: “Please explain, as I live a quiet life. If I have disappointed you, please don’t dump me. Nothing like this has happened to me before.” When “Lizzie” went on to say “If only you had done the Wimbledon Common murder, if only you had killed her, it would be all right,” Stagg replied: “I’m terribly sorry, but I haven’t.” Despite this, Stagg was charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell.

When the case reached the point of trial at the Old Bailey, the trial Judge Justice Ognall ruled that the police had shown “excessive zeal” and had tried to incriminate a suspect by “deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”. He excluded the entrapment evidence and the prosecution withdrew its case. Stagg was formally acquitted in September 1994. This type of operation which was widely condemned in the press was described as being a “honey trap”. On 18th December 2008, Robert Napper pleaded guilty to Nickell’s manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after a cold case review revealed new DNA evidence.

Although a “honey trap” operation was never declared illegal in an English Court, following on from this and other similar cases, it was decided by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that “honey trap” operations would no longer be used. It was believed that the Colin Stagg case showed that in such an operation, the suspect could and would say whatever he or she felt was right under the circumstances to continue the relationship rather than tell the truth.

Can an undercover officer commit a crime?

Undercover Officers, are legally allowed to carry out criminal activities such as purchasing drugs however they are not supposed to take part in criminal enterprises whenever possible. This was not always straight forward. On one occasion an undercover Officer was waiting with a group of others all waiting to be dealt heroin from a dealer. The dealer did not want to spend his time dealing to a number of people and decided that he would deal to one person who could then deal to the rest of the group. The dealer unwittingly picked the undercover Officer who was forced to deal to the rest of the group. This was permissible as the Officer was acting in character and was not setting himself up as a dealer.

Finally, Undercover Officers have to be careful about how they speak to criminals they come across. Normally when the Police speak to or interview a suspect they are bound by the codes of practice laid out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE). PACE states that when a suspect is interviewed he or she should be cautioned and read his rights. Obviously Undercover Officers cannot do this so they have to work around that. They are not to lead conversations that would result in someone revealing information, however if the criminal reveals the information of their own free will that is fine.

Covert Ops

For the select few who manage to pass the initial training course and become qualified as undercover Officers there are regular continuation courses covering developments in role the and changes in legislation. Finally, there are specialist courses for certain roles to allow Officers to work on operations which would otherwise be out of the question. Undercover Officers have been known to train as art experts, vehicle mechanics, computer programmers amongst numerous other skills.

In between working undercover, Officers work in their usual Police role be that being a neighbourhood Officer, a Traffic Officer or any of the countless other roles that Officers carry out until they receive the phone call.

The planning of an undercover operation can take many months or even years depending on the operation. Once the need for an undercover operation arises, a Command Team is formed in co-operation with “Covert Ops” who oversee everything to do with undercover operations. The role of the Command Team is to oversee their operation and they are responsible for the planning of, the budget of and the non-undercover staffing of the operation.

The Command Team will be made up of a senior Officer who is in charge of the whole operation. There will also be Officers trained in and working in intelligence units to ensure that the all information is up to date. The final members of the Command Team are the Exhibits Officer who deals with every single piece of evidence and one or two “runners” who carry out all of the leg work such as transporting Officer and exhibits.

Once the Command Team have everything in place for the operation, they will go back to Covert Ops and after proving that they have everything in place, they will ask for undercover Officers and a Welfare Officer to be assigned. Occasionally, members of the Command Team will request specific undercover and Welfare Officers as they have previously worked with them however this is only ever a request and the final decision is out of their hands.

Within Covert Ops there is one dedicated Officer who has the sole responsibility of overseeing all undercover Officers. This Officer will know the details of each and every undercover Officer in their Force. They will know each Officer’s strengths and weaknesses including any individual Officer’s specialisms. This Officer also knows each Welfare Officer personally.

The role of the Welfare Officer is a vastly underrated one. The sole purpose of the Welfare Officer is to look after the undercover Officers no matter what happens. During any operation, the say of the Welfare Officer is final. No one in the world can overrule the decision of the Welfare Officer. If he or she believes that what is being asked of the undercover Officer is unsafe, not suitable or even just has a bad feeling, that is it. Nothing can happen on an operation without the go ahead from the Welfare Officer.

The Officer overseeing undercover Officers will meet with the chosen Welfare Officer to discuss the operation and prospective Officers. It is very common for operations to include Officers from other forces throughout the country to lessen the chance of the undercover Officer being recognised or his or her identity being discovered. As there is only one Officer in each Force responsible for undercover Officers, it is a small group who know each other well and a quick phone call will arrange the “loan” of an undercover Officer or two.

By Officer Z

See the final part soon.

Daniel Crompton jailed for life – an AG Reference beckons?


Facts and Sentence

On 18th March 2014 Daniel Crompton, was jailed for life for the murder of Frank Worsley. The crime was brutal and cowardly – Mr Crompton broke into the home of Mr Worsley, an 87 widower, last August. Mr Crompton had been drinking and taking drugs and, it seems, was seeking money to feed his drug addiction.

Inside the house, he demanded money from Mr Worsley, repeatedly punching him in the head and face, before leaving with his bank book, wallet and chequebook. He pleaded guilty to that robbery, as well as another burglary that he had committed earlier the same night. The news reports seem to suggest that he was charged with robbery and burglary of Mr Worsley’s house, but that can’t be right – whilst he would have been guilty of both, if both were charged then this would be a duplication. It is unclear if there was a separate burglary.

In any event, Mr Crompton denied the murder. On what basis it is not clear – given that he accepted robbing Mr Worsley and Mr Worsley died several weeks later after suffering a stroke from this attack, it may be that Mr Crompton was disputing that he was the cause of the death, we don’t know.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment – the only sentence available to the judge. The question for him would be the length of the tariff. Here, the tariff was set at 18 years. That is the minimum period of time Mr Crompton will have to spend in prison before he can be considered for release.


18 years in prison is clearly a long time, and it may well be that Mr Crompton will be inside for longer than that, but was the tariff too short?

Looking at our factsheet for setting the tariffs for murder, the starting point of 30 years will apply, amongst other circumstances, when there is “a murder done for gain (such as a murder done in the course or furtherance of robbery or burglary, done for payment or done in the expectation of gain as a result of the death”

How does Mr Crompton not fall into this category? The short answer is that we don’t know as we don’t have the sentencing remarks. We would have expected the starting point as being 30 years.

From this, it may be that there was no intention to kill and a reduction could properly be made if the only issue for the jury was causation – ie, if Mr Crompton accepted that he had done what was alleged, but the question of his guilt depending on the analysis of expert evidence.

Even so, we would be surprised if the reduction took it lower than 27 years. In those circumstances, the tariff of 18 years seems substantially too short. So short in fact, that there may be a Prosecution appeal of the sentence.

The starting point of 30 years is only a starting point (and only a guideline) of course, so there may be matters that we are not aware of that means the 18 year tariff is spot on. Without the sentencing remarks however, there’s not much we can say, other than that Mr Crompton may count himself, ironically for someone serving a life sentence, somewhat lucky.

A view from…an undercover cop – Part I

Popular misconceptions

ACPO’s (Association of Chief Police Officers) head of crime, Merseyside Chief Constable Jon Murphy, has said that undercover Officers play a critical role gathering evidence and intelligence to protect communities from harm. He also described undercover work as being one of the most challenging areas of operational policing. The question is what is it like to be an undercover Officer?

When it comes to undercover work there are a lot of misconceptions and confusion, much of which is the result of films and TV shows.

First and foremost is the belief that any Police Officer wearing plain clothes and who is not wearing a suit is working undercover. Police Officers working in specialist investigatory roles tend to wear more casual clothes such as jeans and t-shirts. There are a variety of reasons for this. One of the main ones is that they may be called to carry out surveillance or observations on a person or property at short notice and it is not practical for them to repeatedly change in and out of uniform.

Officers working undercover wear clothes to suit the role they are portraying. An Officer posing as a heroin user would stand out a mile if they were wearing a suit. Similarly, an Officer attempting to buy ten stolen iPads would not get very far dressed in a dirty old tracksuit that had not seen the inside of a washing machine for some time.

The next popular misconception is that any Officer can work undercover at the drop of a hat and work right next door to the Police Station where they are based. The first stage in becoming an undercover Officer is the assessment. The assessment comprises a number of interviews and role playing exercises to see how the Officer reacts to various circumstances. Everyone who is successful at the assessment progresses onto the initial training course.

The training course

For obvious reasons, the details of undercover courses are shrouded in secrecy. They are run by serving and ex-undercover Officers to an agreed national standard and are widely acknowledged as being the most difficult course any Police Officer can undergo.

The candidates on the course are put through a series of increasingly challenging situations. To ensure accuracy, the basis of each situation is a repetition of one that has happened in real life. Although this has the benefit of allowing the assessors to see how the candidates handle real life situations, the Officers running the course allow each situation to unfold naturally and react to the candidate’s actions.

Unfortunately for the candidates, the courses are run under “big boy’s rules” which means that there are no “safe words” to stop the exercise and on occasions, candidates have been known to suffer injuries after being assaulted or injured during the exercise. The people running the course act just like a criminal would in real life and if that includes resorting to physical violence then so be it. If the candidate cannot handle it in a training situation they will not be able to handle it in the real world.

In amongst the practical exercises, there are lengthy lessons on the legal aspects of being an undercover Officer. Although they work undercover, the Officers are still subject to the exact same laws as when they are working in uniform although undercover Officers have additional laws to work with such as acting as an agent provocateur which is something that regular officers do not have to even think about.

Most of the law in England and Wales falls into one of two categories: Statute law and common law. Statute law is law which has been compiled and passed by Parliament and is laid out for Judges to rule on. Common law has been handed down from the dawn of time and can come to exist through convention or judicial precedent. Examples of convention are the offences of murder and breach of the peace. The work of undercover officers is often affected by judicial precedent. This can often define what a word means and can only be over-ruled by a higher court. The main concern for undercover Officers are the rules covering entrapment and acting as an agent provocateur.

In short, they can act as criminals but cannot encourage the people are interacting with to carry out tasks they would not normally carry out themselves. The easiest way to explain it is to use an example of an undercover Officer trying to buy drugs.

The Officer cannot ask someone who supplies cannabis to supply heroin as this was not a drug they normally supply. To further confuse matters, the Officer has to ensure that they use the correct wording. Asking someone if they “have any heroin” is fine but asking if they “can get any” would mean that the Officer would be acting as an agent provocateur and encouraging the dealer to commit the offence of obtaining heroin to supply it to the Officer.

By Officer Z

See Part II here

Silk (Series 3, Episode 4)



Well, we’re over the hump – the end of last week’s episode marked the half way point in the third series. Martha’s still going strong, but better than that, Caroline Warwick QC is back in London, larger than life and is on fire.


Extradition this week. But not a break from crime, as Rashid Hirani is accused of planning to blow up Arizona (or a part of it at least). His uncle is, as luck would have it, a solicitor who has heard of Martha’s reputation.

Surely with Martha going off to do extradition we will be spared the sight of Clive Reader prosecuting her? Clive’s done one extradition case, which is one more than Martha, but seems to be a bit of a whizz at it when he flicks through the papers.

Anyway, Martha smells a mental health defence, for Rashid, as well as Clive’s suggestion of arguing improper purpose. She meets Elizabeth Forester from the American Embassy (or at least, she claims to be – it sounded a pretty dodgy American accent) and gets a bit more information.

The High Court gives her a bit of time to get to the bottom of whether the US have been playing fast and loose. What do you do in those circumstances? You get a Special Advocate in. Of all the lawyers in all the land, who do you think gets the gig? Who else, but Clive Reader.

Unfortunately, it seems that Rashid has not been completely truthful. Luckily, it seems that there may be more to it than meets the eye (isn’t there always?). There is a fourth man who Martha tracks down and speaks to, before heading off to speak to Clive.

Luckily Clive is willing to break the rules and drop some hints to Martha about the secret stuff that he’s seen. And it’s interesting – I won’t give the final plot away, but no-one comes out of this that well. In case you wondered what happened to the mental health issues, it may be that Martha has got a way out of it for everyone …

Away from the Martha and Clive show, there’s plenty going on in Shoe Lane.

Caroline Warwick gives anyone that comes near her both barrels. A thousand lawyers were cheering at her comments about legal aid. And “We’re all stressed ducky, it’s the criminal bar” was exceptionally well delivered.

Amy Lang, the pupil, has had a bad week. She covered a mention in Caroline Warwick’s case that involved the ‘Albanian Paedophile’ trial, which involved it being brought forward. Caroline isn’t happy with this as she’s already so overworked and so Amy is sent off to schedulise all weekend.

Caroline opens the case to the jury based on Amy’s work, and then gets slapped down by one of the defence barristers who points out that she’s got the phone evidence all wrong, about which Caroline is pretty forgiving (presumably because she’s realised that she’s messed up majorly).

The complainant is cross-examined and is coming off badly. There is then a stroke of luck – Caroline ‘accidentally’ reads the defence proof of evidence, lies to the Judge about having told Amy what was in it, and then thinks ‘sod it’ (actually, I’m sure she’d say ‘fuck it’), before going and drinking vodka neat. Don’t judge it, we’ve all done it.

There is other stuff going on – Amy discloses the sexual harassment from Billy to Martha. Martha confronts Billy who explains that it was all a misunderstanding. The window of opportunity for the matter to be explained is passed, and Amy puts in an official complaint against Billy.



The plots are getting slightly sillier, but the acting is still great. I know the dynamic between Martha and Clive is the backbone of the show, but I would like to see one week where they are not both involved in the same case. This week did actually raise an interesting ethical dilemma at the end, at least in the sense that Martha was torn as to whether she did the right thing.

But personally, I’d love to see Caroline Warwick get her own show – that would be something well worth watching. She is now firmly my favourite character.


Legal inconsistencies :

  • Elizabeth Forester would not be presenting the US case in Court as she appears to be witness in it. 
  • Blowing up the University of Arizona and killing four students would almost certainly be a federal, rather than a state, crime.
  • Whilst Caroline Warwick would probably not get a junior for her trial, this wouldn’t be because of legal aid – as she was prosecuting it would be up to the CPS to sort one.
  • Clive would probably not have been appointed as a Special Advocate, not really because they’re in the same chambers, more because he’s looked at the papers and spoken to Martha about it. After he had been appointed, he would not have been as open as he was with Martha.
  • The discussion as to whether Caroline would have to withdraw would not have been taken in the Judge’s chambers – it would have been in open Court.

If there are any extradition lawyers out there who want to write this up or comment on it, then please get in touch.

There is a good summary of the issues in extradition (and a look at mental health issues) in the case Babar Ahmad and others.


Laura Cunliffe jailed for microwaving kitten to death

Image from Daily Mail

Image from Daily Mail

In the Daily Mail on Friday 21 February 2014, it was reported that unemployed Laura Cunliffe, 23 from Barnsley, pleaded guilty at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court to causing unnecessary suffering of an animal.

On 13 March 2014, she was sentenced to 14 weeks’ imprisonment.

The offence

Animal Welfare Act 2006 s 4 creates the offence of causing unnecessary suffering. It is a summary only offence meaning it can only be tried in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is 6 months and/or a £20,000 fine.


The Mail’s article, which contains some disturbing pictures, can be seen here.

She had a 4 month old kitten – Mowgli.

Mowgli reportedly ‘attacked’ Ms Cunliffe’s goldfish. Ms Cunliffe then appears to have placed Mowgli into the microwave and set it to cook for 5 minutes.

Mowgli reportedly was still alive when Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave, but was struggling to breathe. Ms Cunliffe then took Mowgli to a relatives house. He died some 90 minutes after Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave.


The prosecution was brought by the RSPCA, who reportedly said: ‘The main reason the RSPCA took this case in order to achieve disqualifications in order to protect animals and prevent further suffer in the future.’

The deputy chief inspector said: ‘It is particularly horrendous because of the period of suffering for the kitten which would have been awful.’

She said that the exposure to the radiation in the microwave would have cooked the animal’s internal organs.

She said: ‘It is an horrific case in the fact that the death of the cat would have been prolonged and it is unimaginable what it would have gone through taking some time to die.


Prior to the sentencing hearing, her defence advocate reportedly said that Ms Cunliffe had suffered from psychosis and depression, having been detained under Mental Health legislation ‘several times’.

The BBC reported that in mitigation, her solicitor said that Ms Cunliffe had longstanding problems with psychotic depression and had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 20 times.

Sentencing guidelines

There are guidelines which apply to this offence. See numbered page 22 [40 of the PDF]. There are three categories and arguably this offences does not neatly fall into any of them.

The bottom category describes ‘One impulsive act causing little or no injury’ which this is clearly not.

The middle category describes: Several incidents of deliberate ill-treatment/frightening animal(s); medium term neglect’ which doesn’t seem to fit either.

The top category describes: ‘Attempt to kill/torture; animal baiting/conducting or permitting cock-fighting etc.; prolonged neglect’ which on balance isn’t a perfect match either, as one presumes Ms Cunliffe pleaded guilty on the basis that she did not intend to kill or torture the animal.

Judge’s comments

The BBC reported: District Judge John Foster said “This was an act of utterly horrendous cruelty on your part on an animal that, as far as I could see, had come to trust you and rely on you.”

Sentence imposed

14 weeks’ imprisonment, and a disqualification from owning or keeping etc. animals, under Protection of Animals Act 1911 s 2, for life.


The starting point for the top category in the guidelines is 18 weeks. Ms Cunliffe pleaded guilty and so some credit (presumably 1/3) would have been given for that. Her mental health issues provide strong mitigation and so despite the seriousness of the offence, 14 weeks immediate custody appears to be over the top (even with the aggravating factor that the kitten died). Perhaps a suspended sentence might have been more appropriate and proportionate, considering Ms Cunliffe’s difficulties. It would appear that treatment, not abandonment, is what is required.

The disqualification order seems entirely appropriate.