Tag Archives: Knives

Man jailed for Buckingham palace trespass – but is trespass an offence?

buckingham

David Belmar, aged 44, from Haringey, London, was sentenced today, 15th January 2014, for breaking into the grounds of Buckingham Palace with a knife.

BBC News reported that Belmar ‘jumped a vehicle barrier on 14 October 2013 in an attempt to see the Queen.’ (The Queen wasn’t present). ‘After police brought Belmar to the ground and searched him, they found a kitchen knife wrapped in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket.’

The offences

Belmar entered guilty pleas in October 2013.

What were the offences? Well that has caused some confusion on Twitter (and no doubt among some of the more alert journalists). Newspaper reports stated that Belmar was sentenced for two offences:

a) Possession of a bladed article

b) Trespass

Bladed article

Possession of a bladed article is an offence under Criminal Justice Act 1988 s 139. For a bit more information see the CPS legal guidance, specifically the section which tells you whether a screwdriver or a butter knife is or is not a bladed article.

The offence is triable either way – i.e. in the Magistrates or the Crown Court.

Trespass?

Those with perhaps more than a rudimentary knowledge of the law will have spotted that trespass isn’t a criminal offence.

It is a tort which gives rise to a cause of action in the civil courts – basically, you can sue someone for it providing you can prove someone owed a duty to act in particular fashion, they breached that duty. Unusually for tort law, it is not necessary to prove that as a result of the breach, you have suffered some loss in order for the cause to be actionable (i.e. for you to be able to sue). Remedies include damages (to compensate for any loss) or an injunction to prevent further trespass.

So if trespass isn’t a criminal offence, did the papers get it wrong (again)?

No. Well, not really.

The offence [I presume] he pleaded guilty to was an offence under Terrorism legislation, which, among other things, protects Crown property, government and parliamentary sites.

Under Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 s 128, it is an offence to trespass on a protected site.

(1)A person commits an offence if he enters, or is on, any designated site in England and Wales or Northern Ireland as a trespasser.

(2)A “designated site” means a site—

(a) specified or described (in any way) in an order made by the Secretary of State, and

(b) designated for the purposes of this section by the order.

(3) The Secretary of State may only designate a site for the purposes of this section if—

(a) it is comprised in Crown land; or

(b) it is comprised in land belonging to Her Majesty in Her private capacity or to the immediate heir to the Throne in his private capacity; or

(c) it appears to the Secretary of State that it is appropriate to designate the site in the interests of national security.

This gives the secretary of state a discretion to, under secondary legislation (a statutory instrument not requiring the full scrutiny of parliament), designate sites where his or her office considers appropriate to do so.

Protected sites

Originally, the sixteen designated sites were as follows:

  • 85 Albert Embankment, London
  • Buckingham Palace, London
  • Ministry of Defence Main Building, Whitehall, London
  • Old War Office Building, Whitehall, London
  • St James’s Palace, Cleveland Row, London
  • Thames House, 11 and 12 Millbank, London
  • The Chequers estate, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
  • 10 – 12 Downing Street site as well as 70 Whitehall
  • Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), Harp Hill, Cheltenham
  • GCHQ, Hubble Road, Cheltenham
  • GCHQ, Racecourse Road, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
  • GCHQ, Woodford, Bude, Cornwall
  • Highgrove House, Doughton, Gloucestershire
  • Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House site, London
  • Sandringham House, Norfolk
  • Windsor Castle, Berkshire

Subsequently, MoD nuclear sites were added to the list.

The permission of the Attorney General must be obtained before commencing a prosecution for an offence under this section.

Defence to trespass

Home Office guidance:

Section 128 (4) provides that a person charged with a trespass offence may use as a defence the fact that he did not know, and had no reasonable cause to suspect, that the site to which the offence was alleged to have been committed was a protected site.

It is for the defendant to prove this defence. This is viewed as appropriate because in such a case the facts to be proved would be within the defendant’s own knowledge.

Sentencing regime

The bladed article offence has a maximum sentence of 4 years and/or a fine. The CPS guidance can be seen here. There are no sentencing guidelines for the Crown Court, but the guideline case of R v Povey established some principles:

The effect of Povey is that a court’s primary sentencing principles for this offence are protection of the public, and reduction of these offences by courts passing deterrent sentences. In clear terms this guideline case establishes an obligation on courts to pass severe sentences, for public policy reasons, on those who carry offensive weapons, especially knives, because of the increased prevalence of such offences.

The trespass offence is a summary only offence meaning it can only be tried in the magistrates’ court and that it has a maximum sentence of 6 months and/or a £5,000 fine. However, Belmar was sentenced in the Crown Court because this summary only matter was linked to (i.e. arose out of the same facts as) an offence which can be tried in the Crown Court. Due to the seriousness of the bladed article offence, it is almost certain that the Magistrates’ Court considered that their sentencing powers were insufficient for the bladed article offence and so ‘sent’ both offences up to the Crown Court.

There are no guidelines.

Belmar’s sentence

Belmar received 16 months. We haven’t seen any reports stating the break down of the sentence, but one can presume it would have been either 16 months for the knife, with a concurrent sentence for the trespass, or 12 months for the knife and 4 months for the trespass. Taking account of the guilty pleas, the court would have started at around 24 months.

We don’t know too much detail about the case and so predicting an appeal is rather difficult, however it might be that a custodial sentence of 16 months might enable Belmar to receive some mental health treatment, which the judge said he or she felt was necessary – At a hearing in October the judge said that Belmar was “a danger not just to himself but to others”.

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Ben Edgar, 20, receives life with minimum term of 12 years for murder

Facts

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail

Picture courtesy of the Daily Mail

Edgar, aged 20, was convicted of murder. His mother was in a relationship with the victim, Mr Wood. There had been animosity between Edgar and Wood, reportedly over who was ‘the man in the house’.

Edgar’s mother alleged that Wood had assaulted her on previous occasions. One evening, a row broke out between Wood and the mother. Edgar intervened, holding Wood in a headlock. In a further argument occurring in the kitchen, Edgar took a knife from the draining board and stabbed Wood. He subsequently died.

He called 999 saying ‘I have stabbed my mum’s boyfriend’.

At trial, he claimed that he believed he had picked up a fork, rather than a knife. This was disbelieved by the jury. He also claimed he was acting in self defence.

There were text messages from Edgar’s phone threatening to harm Wood, however the Judge stated that these were ‘the angry outbursts of a young man of limited intelligence who heard that his mother had been attacked by her boyfriend’.

Daily Mail news report.

Judge’s remarks

‘I am in no doubt whatever that his death occurred after he had drunkenly attacked your mother and you had restrained him in an upstairs bedroom, where he had also threatened you with violence.

‘I reject the Crown’s case that on that evening you had some premeditated plan to attack Wood. The evidence of all witnesses present that evening shows that relations between all of you were good until your mother and Wood got involved in a drunken row.

‘In my judgement the text traffic were the angry outbursts of a young man of limited intelligence who heard that his mother had been attacked by her boyfriend.

‘It follows that this is a truly tragic case in which a drunken domestic argument between Mark Wood and your mother and his drunken attack upon her, led to your entirely justified intervention and then in very short order, his death.

‘You have been convicted of a murder charge because you went too far in dealing with his aggression.”

Sentence

An explanation of the starting points for mandatory life sentences can be seen here.

The sentence imposed was mandatory life with a minimum term of 12 years. There are no sentencing remarks so we are left guessing as to how the Judge arrived at that sentence.

The starting point for murders committed with knives is 25 years, however this only applies where the knife was taken to the scene. In this case, we can assume that the weapon was not taken to the scene as the murder occurred in the kitchen and the news report suggests that the knife was picked up by Edgar in the course of the argument.

That brings the starting point to 15 years.

The Judge stated ‘’I reject the Crown’s case that on that evening you had some premeditated plan to attack Wood.’ The lack of premeditation constitutes a mitigating factor. Similarly, his youth and ‘limited intellect’ and the fact that he was provoked (by the violence to his mother) would also have constituted mitigation. It is unclear whether Edgar’s claim that he acted in self defence was outright rejected by the jury, and the Judge made no remark to that effect that we are aware of. It may be that if Edgar was acting in fear of violence (as he claimed), that this will also have constituted mitigation.

There was no plea of guilty and so a modest reduction from the starting point of 15 years was the sentence arrived at by the Judge.

Comment

At first glance, a 12-year minimum term appears somewhat low. However, after examining the news reports and taking account of the Judge’s remarks (assuming that they are accurate), one is able to see how the Judge arrived at that sentence.

Myles Williams

Facts

Williams was sentenced to life imprisonment with minimum term of 28 years for murdering girlfriend.

He was found guilty after a trial at the Old Bailey which concluded in September.

The day before her murder, Williams’ girlfriend, Kirsty Treloar received a text message from Williams. It said: “Okay wer all gud now and my new yrs ressy is that i aint going to hit u again and i won’t hit u 4 this yr next yr the yr after that the next yr after that.” The BBC reported that he went on to say that he wanted her to swear on their daughter’s life she wouldn’t do anything to make him angry before ending the message with “love you 4 eva”.

Seven hours after sending the text, Williams received a reply from Kirsty saying that she did not want to see him. Williams then broke into her family home in Hackney, East London, armed with a knife. He attacked Kirsty and when her brother, 23 and sister, 24, tried to help, they were also attacked by Williams. Her brother was stabbed in the chest and her sister suffered a cut on her arm.

Kirsty was dragged into Williams’ car. She was stabbed 29 times in front of their 26-day old child. Reports suggested that the child was ‘covered’ in blood after the attack. Kirsty’s body was found behind wheelie bins near Williams’ abandoned car around two miles away from her family home. Williams claimed that he had no recollection of the attack.

Sentencing

It appears there are no sentencing remarks available. We are then left to speculate on how the Judge arrived at the sentence.

Life imprisonment is a mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of murder (there are juvenile equivalents). However, Williams is aged 19, and so, when the news reports state he has been sentenced to life imprisonment, they actually mean custody for life.

If a person under the age of 18 is convicted of murder, the starting point is 12 years. This is irrespective of the circumstances of the offence. The starting point for someone over 18 convicted of murder with a knife is 25 years. There is guidance on how to reconcile the differences between those two starting points in cases where the defendant has only recently turned 18 years old.

The Judge appears to have started at the 25-year starting point. It may be that the Judge made some reduction to take account of Williams’ age (19 is considered to be young and often attracts a reduction in sentence). It would then appear that the sentence was increased to reflect the aggravating factors. The Judge may have considered that the following were present: the brutal nature of the attack, that Kirsty may have suffered before her death, the concealment of the body, potential abuse of a position of trust and the premeditation.

There could be no reduction for a guilty plea. News reports have remained silent on his character, but in any event, no previous or no significant previous would make little to no difference to this sentence.

Is a 28-year minimum term the correct sentence? On the limited facts it would seem that it is certainly within the expected range. It may be argued that fewer aggravating factors were present, and so when taken with Williams’ age, a sentence above the starting point of 25 years was excessive.

Without a clear factual background, it is difficult to assess. An appeal may be mounted, but expect only a modest reduction, if anything at all.