‘Hapless Hitmen’ have appeals dismissed – Jason Richards and Ben Hope

Photo from ITV

Photo from ITV

Introduction

We always like to come back to cases previously covered on the blog, and the Court of Appeal’s judgment on 17th June 2014 in the case of Richards & Hope [2014] EWCA Crim 1196 gives us the chance to dust off a post from February of last year when they were convicted of murder.

 

Facts

The judgement of the Court of Appeal sets out the facts and the evidence against the two men. In brief, the prosecution alleged that they had been recruited by a third person to kill a man who was due to give evidence against that person. In what was described in Court by the prosecution as an act of ‘staggering incompetence’ they went the wrong address and stabbed 17 year old Aamir Siddiqui and his parents several times. Aamir’s parents survived (and Mr Richards and Mr Hope were convicted of their attempted murder) but he, tragically, died and the two were convicted of his murder.

 

Appeal Against Conviction (Mr Richards only)

The appeal was based in part against a cumulation of various points, but mainly on the basis that Mr Hope abandoned his appeal and gave evidence accepting that he had been involved, but exculpating Mr Richards.

This is always a tricky appeal to run and very rarely succeeds. The Lord Chief Justice here quoted a previous case where it was said “ this Court will be very careful before it will admit a confession of guilt by one of two people who have been convicted by a jury of a joint offence. It would be too easy for criminals to seek to share out responsibility so as to get one of them off“.

Of course, it could also be said that someone in the position of Mr Hope has every reason to lie and have a trial in the hope that he gets off, even knowing that the man in the dock next to him isn’t guilty. This is all the more so when he is facing down the barrel of a life sentence with a very long tariff…

But still. Mr Richards had an uphill task and, as was always really going to be case (especially in a murder case) and the Court of Appeal managed to dismiss his application for leave to appeal without breaking sweat.

 

Appeal Against Sentence

The tariffs for both of them were set at 40 years. As we said at the time, this is one of the longest tariffs ever set. And, whilst the offences were clearly serious, it was not clear why it was that long.

Well, we have a bit more information now from the Court of Appeal. They had the sentencing remarks (which haven’t yet been published), which had distilled the following aggravating factors :

i) It was the murder of a child.

ii) It was committed before the eyes of his parents.

iii) There was a significant degree of premeditation and planning.

iv) There was a joint attempt to murder Aamir’s mother.

v) There was a joint attempt to murder Aamir’s father.

vi) Both Richards and Hope had convictions involving serious violence.

There were no mitigating features.

The Court of Appeal upheld the 40 year tariff, saying “This was an appalling series of crimes for which the minimum term of 40 years was just punishment, reflecting not only the premeditated and brutal nature of the murder and attempted murders but also a deterrent element in respect of contract killings which have no place in any civilised society“.

All the aggravating features are correct, although when one speaks of the murder of a child, it is normally speaking of someone younger than 17 and (iv) and (v) clearly overlap. We would have hoped for a bit more by way of analysis from the Court, partly because of what we said above, and partly because several of these factors are effectively incorporated into the higher starting point of 30 years.

It is also an interesting point as to what extent deterrence has a role to play in setting the tariff for murder – the deterrence is surely in the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment itself?

Having said that, the Judge heard the trial and has a wide discretion in sentencing. A tariff more in the region of 35 years still seems more appropriate to us, but sometimes you have to defer to the Judge’s assessment of the situation.

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