Tag Archives: Manslaughter

“Punch 4 Punch” – a game with tragic consequences

For those unfamiliar with the game “Punch 4 Punch”, as we at UK Criminal Law Blog were, we are reliably informed that the game involves players being filmed with one hand tied behind their backs, punching one another.  A seemingly odd form of amusement, the game involves two individuals taking turns to hit one another.  The “loser”, or the player who gives up first, then forced to take a forfeit, usually in the form of an alcoholic beverage.

This rather bizarre game can have tragic consequences, as one family from Bexley have sadly found out.  Tommy Main, a 23 year old father of one, was playing the game with a friend when he was rushed to hospital having collapsed after being punched in the chest.  He later died in hospital.  A 20 year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and bailed until September for the police to commence investigations.

 

Tommy Main, photo: Evening Standard

Egg-Shell Skull

Whether the game caused Mr Main’s death is yet to be established.  However, it brings to mind the “egg-shell skull” rule.  Essentially, this rule states that those who commit offences must “take their victim as they find them”.  By way of explanation; if set out to steal a handbag, but in doing so you cause your victim to fall the ground, crack their head open and later die, you may be held criminally responsible for their death.  Although you may not have intended to kill, therefore may not be guilty of murder, you may be guilty of manslaughter, as death was the result, albeit an unexpected and unintended one.

Joint Enterprise

Joint enterprise is a legal doctrine enabling the CPS to charge a group of individuals with one offence, if they were allegedly acting together, regardless of what role they played.  For example, the man who sets out to steal the handbag, may ask someone to drive him to and from the scene of the crime, and therefore that driver can also be charged with theft/robbery/manslaughter/murder, in the same manner that the handbag thief is.  In Tommy Main’s case we would speculate that there may well be others involved, who may well face charges under this doctrine.

Sentencing?

If the 20 year-old man referred to above is charged with murder, what sentence might he expect to receive?  The sentencing guidelines for murder are explained here.  If a manslaughter charge is laid, he would be subject to different sentencing considerations and of course the judge would not have to impose a life sentence.  Until the case is investigated thoroughly it is simply too early to say what the outcome will be.  But this post will be updated as and when there are any developments.

Natasha Sultan receives 3-year Supervision Order for infanticide

Natasha Sultan killed her 5-week-old daughter Amelia Lily in a “sudden explosion of violence”. Amelia Lily suffered a single blow to the head and later died in hospital.

Sultan, aged 21, will be sentenced on 12 November 2013.

Offence of infanticide

Infanticide Act 1938 s 1 creates the offence of a woman causing the death of her child when her mind was disturbed. It reads:

(1)Where a woman by any wilful act or omission causes the death of her child being a child under the age of twelve months, but at the time of the act or omission the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child, then, notwithstanding that the circumstances were such that but for this Act the offence would have amounted to murder, she shall be guilty of felony, to wit of infanticide, and may for such offence be dealt with and punished as if she had been guilty of the offence of manslaughter of the child.

(2)Where upon the trial of a woman for the murder of her child, being a child under the age of twelve months, the jury are of opinion that she by any wilful act or omission caused its death, but that at the time of the act or omission the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of her not having fully recovered from the effect of giving birth to the child or by reason of the effect of lactation consequent upon the birth of the child, then the jury may, notwithstanding that the circumstances were such that but for the provisions of this Act they might have returned a verdict of murder, return in lieu thereof a verdict of infanticide.

The offence is triable only in the Crown Court and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. It is now rarely charged, with 1 person receiving a community sentence in 2009, 2 receiving community sentences in 2010 and 0 people being sentenced for it in 2011.

Facts

The prosecution said that Sultan had changed her story several times, first claiming that she did not know of any injury to her child, then claiming that she had accidentally dropped the child, and latterly admitting to causing the fractured skull.

Sultan admitted infanticide on the first day of her trial. She was originally charged with murder but the prosecution accepted the plea to infanticide.

Sultan was suffering from post-natal depression at the time of the offence.

Judge’s comments

BBC News reported: Judge Jeremy Richardson QC told her: “I cannot, and will not, ignore the fact you killed your baby…in a sudden explosion of violence.

“It is an anxious and difficult case in equal measure.

“The facts are clear – you killed your much-loved and wanted child when the balance of your mind was disturbed.”

Sentence – General

This offence is very similar to manslaughter and as we have said before, manslaughter has perhaps the widest range of sentences given; from an absolute discharge to life imprisonment.

The sentences vary wildly according to the individual circumstances, but clearly the mental health element of this offence provides for some mitigation.

Judges are required to balance the fact that a vulnerable life has been taken with the obvious psychiatric difficulties. Sentences for this offence are more likely to focus on helping the defendant as opposed to purely punishing them, as the courts recognise the difficult and unique circumstances in which this offence is committed.

In a case in 1989, the court said that in the previous 10 years there had been 59 cases of infanticide and not one had received a custodial sentence.

Without knowing the facts and mental health records it is difficult to say what type of sentence the court are likely to consider appropriate; some defendants receive hospital orders, whereas others receive community sentences. At the very least, we can say that this is likely to be a non-custodial sentence.

3-year Supervision Order

It has been reported that Sultan received a 3-year Supervision Order.

More to come later.

Man jailed for killing crying baby daughter

Kurt Delves has been jailed for 3 years and nine months for shaking his 10 week-old daughter causing devastating brain damage and haemorrhages in her brain and eyes.  The baby later died in hospital.

Kurt Delves

Delves admitted manslaughter of his daughter having shook her “in frustration” when she would not stop crying.  Police say Delves shook her in an attempt to wake her when she became floppy during a bath.  She was taken to Birmingham Children’s Hospital and put on a life support machine, but later died.

Delves admitted manslaughter on day one of his trial.  In sentencing him to three years and nine months, HHJ Thirlwall said “I accept you wanted to be a good father but on this date, you didn’t, you lost your temper, you shook her repeatedly.”

Dainotas Doblys sentenced for manslaughter after ‘raping woman to death’

Doblys

Dainostas Doblys was acquitted of the murder of 49 year old Virginija Jurkiene but convicted of her double rape and manslaughter in June 2013. On 2 September, he was sentenced.

Doblys was aged 49 and came to the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2008 and returned here in late 2011.

Convictions

There were some convictions from Lithuania, and convictions in Scotland for threatening behaviour, assaults and carrying a knife. With the seriousness of the offences here, it is unlikely these will have had much of an impact on the sentence.

Facts

Virginija placed an advert in the Lonely Hearts column of a Lithuanian paper. She said that she was a

“49 year old sole, friendly, funny female seeking friend for serious friendship. If you are bored of being on your own, call me. I live in Wisbech town. [Mobile] 756.”

He answered the advertisement and, after several telephone calls, agreed to meet. They did so and paid for a hotel room. They ate a meal on the hotel room floor and drank two bottles of brandy and a bottle of vodka.

Doblys then subjected Virginija to a sustained sexual attack during which he raped her both anally and vaginally. It was the prosecution case that she was raped on the floor, from behind and died of postural asphyxia in association with severe alcohol intoxication.

The following day, Doblys informed the hotel reception staff that Virginja was dead in the hotel room.

Virginija was already dead when at 7.15 am Doblys made a short call on his mobile to a woman in Lithuania. He took a long shower and did not go downstairs until about 11.15 am. Only after buying some cigarettes did he tell the landlady that there was something wrong with your companion.

Injuries

The Judge described the injuries as ‘shocking wounds to the intimate parts of her body.’ Details of the injuries were not read out in open court during the sentencing hearing. The details are disturbing.

We are able to report what was said of the injuries during the trial.

There were significant injuries to her vagina and the mucosa of her rectum had been removed to a depth of 8cm. The injuries were caused by repetitive and forceful penetration. There was lots of bleeding.

Felicity Gerry, prosecuting, said during the trial: “All the evidence indicates he kept assaulting her until she was dead and probably beyond.”

The Judge said

‘The extent and multiplicity of arm and leg bruises suggested many actions of gripping type pressure, with penetration being achieved by gripping your victim’s inner thighs and moving them apart. An injury to her chin was consistent with a forceful impact with the floor.’

Judge’s comments about the case

The investigation and presentation of this case by the police, CPS and counsel was meticulous.

‘I…thank all three experienced counsel (Miss Gerry, Mr. Khalil QC and Miss Rafferty) for their assistance throughout this trial, both on matters of law and in relation to the fair and efficient presentation of the evidence…’

Sentence

The Judge said:

‘I regard your culpability as only slightly reduced by the inference I make from the joint booking of the hotel room and her undamaged removed clothing that Virginija contemplated some sort of naked sexual activity with you there.

You were a florid liar in your dealings with the police, painting a bogus picture of athletic yet entirely consensual prolonged bouts of sexual intercourse.’

It was accepted that the rapes were not planned or pre-meditated.

The manslaughter

The Judge found that Doblys satisfied the dangerousness criteria. This means that the Judge considered that there was a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public posed by Doblys. That required him to impose either and extended sentence or a life sentence. He felt that an extended sentence was appropriate for the manslaughter offence.

The Judge was reuiqred to assess the appropriate custodial term, and then add on an extended licence period, designed to protect the public once Doblys has been released.

The sentence was 16 years’ custody with a 4-year extended licence.

The rapes

The Judge imposed two 11-year sentences on the two rape counts, to be served concurrently (at the same time) with the extended sentence.

Notification

As a result of the sentence, Doblys is subject to the notification requirements, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, for life. This is more commonly known as the sex offenders register.

Release

Doblys will serve 2/3 of the custodial term, at which point he must apply to the parole board for release. They can release him, or keep him in custody until the expiration of the custodial term of the sentence (16 years).

Man who ‘raped woman to death’ is convicted of manslaughter and rape

Man who ‘raped woman to death’ is convicted of manslaughter and rape

In January 2013, Virginja Jurkiene, 49, posted a ‘lonely hearts’ advert.Dainotas Doblys, 48, answered the advert and the pair agreed to meet.

They went to the Hare and Hounds Hotel in North Brink. They went to buy alcohol and food from a local shop, and then returned to the hotel.

The following day, Doblys informed the hotel reception staff that Virginja was dead in the hotel room.

The BBC reported that a post-mortem examination revealed Ms Jurkiene had died from “suffocation in conjunction with severe alcohol intoxication”.

In court, the cause of death was described as postural asphyxia – essentially, Virginje had suffocated due to the position her body was in. Doblys told the police he had penetrated her for 4-5 hours. Injuries to both indicated this was from behind.

Virginje had suffered numerous injuries and was found face down in a pool of her own blood. There were significant injuries to her vagina and the mucosa of her rectum had been removed to a depth of 8cm.

The trial

Doblys denied murder and rape and said the two had had consensual sex.

The prosecution case was essentially that Doblys had ‘raped Virginje to death’. They brought the case on the basis that he had murdered her – not intending to kill, but intending to cause her really serious harm. They also alleged two counts of rape, anal and vaginal

The BBC reported: Felicity Gerry, prosecuting, said: “The multiplicity and significant nature of injury leads to an inevitable inference that the defendant intended to cause really serious harm.

“All the evidence indicates he kept assaulting her until she was dead and probably beyond.”

She said Ms Jerkiene died long before she was found and “the pathology is that she would have been semi-conscious or unconscious and therefore incapable of consent” .

Virginje was a heavy drinker and was 4.5 times the legal driving limit at the time of her death.

The jury were asked to consider counts of murder and rape (x2). Manslaughter was an alternative verdict to the murder count on the basis that the rapes were unlawful acts and Doblys was responsible for her death even if he did not intend to kill.

Verdicts

Dainotas Doblys was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter and rape (two counts).

Sentences

The maximum sentence for rape and for manslaughter is life imprisonment.

Doblys will be sentenced on 2 September 2013. We will return to the case then.

Mick and Mairead Philpott guilty of manslaughter of their six children

philpotts

On Tuesday 2 April 2013, Mick and Mairead Philpott and their friend Paul Mosley were convicted of the manslaughter of six children by setting fire to their house.

The background to the story can be found here (BBC).

The essence is that Mick and Mairead Philpott and their friend Paul Mosely hatched a plan to set fire to their house in an attempt to frame his live-in mistress, Lisa Willis. The prosecution case was that the motivation for seeking to frame Lisa Willis was that the ‘crime’ would help turn family law proceedings in relation to their children in Mick Philpott’s favour.

Five of the six children died on the morning of the fire and the sixth died three days later. The children were: Jade Philpott, 10, John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, and Jayden, five. Duwayne, 13, was Mairead Philpott’s son from a previous relationship.

The fire was far bigger than was anticipated and took hold of the house very quickly.

The court heard that Mick Philpott had a ‘violent past’, with a conviction for the attempted murder of a former girlfriend in 1987.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is divided into two: a) voluntary manslaughter and b) involuntary manslaughter. The former occurs when there is an intention to kill but a defence is present which reduces the conviction from murder to manslaughter. An example would be loss of control.

The latter, which is the case here, is where there is an absence of an intention to kill. Apart from the absence of the requisite intent, all other elements of the offence are the same as for murder.

There are two types of involuntary manslaughter, namely:

  • that caused by the defendant’s gross negligence; and
  • that caused by his unlawful or dangerous act.

It appears that in this case, this is ‘unlawful act’ manslaughter, with the act being arson.

Conviction

Mick Philpott and Paul Mosley were found guilty by unanimous verdicts. Mairead Philpott was convicted by a majority after an 8 week trial.

Sentence

Mrs Justice Thirlwall said that the three would be sentenced on Wednesday.

Of course, no sentence of a court can properly reflect that a life – and such young lives at that – have been lost. Sentences must however reflect that fact that six children have died (for example, a careless driving sentence will be increased to reflect the loss of life, where the driving is equally culpable).

So, what is the likely sentence? Well that is a difficult question. Firstly because manslaughter comprises the widest range of sentences of any offence before the courts – from a conditional discharge to life imprisonment. Sentences must reflect the particular facts of the case and because of the innumerable ways in which a manslaughter offence can be committed, the phrase ‘sentences are fact specific’ applies here more than ever. Secondly, although the case has received a great deal of press coverage, without being in court all day everyday, it is very difficult to get a good sense of the true nature of a case such as this.

What is certainly relevant is the motive for setting fire to the house. It may be necessary to examine whether the defendants satisfy the dangerousness provisions – requiring an extended sentence or life sentence.

The sentences will undoubtedly be lengthy.

It may be of interest to know that had the three been convicted of murder, the starting point would have been a whole life tariff.

Image from BBC News.

14 year old girl and 17 year old boy guilty of manslaughter

Junior

A 14 year old girl and her 17 year old boyfriend, neither of whom can be named, have been found guilty of manslaughter, having been found not guilty of murder.

Junior Nkwelle, aged 15, was playing football on a housing estate in Brixton, south London, in September 2012. He had been playing football with his friends when an argument broke out. The girl and her friends seem to have taken offence over something.

The girl then telephoned her boyfriend and told him to come to the estate to teach Junior a lesson. He travelled by bus and when he arrived, started fighting with Junior. He then stabbed Junior in the chest with a knife. The wound cut his heart and a lung. He died at the scene.

The court heard that Junior did not know either the boy or girl prior to the incident and that ‘there was no quarrel between them.’

It would appear that the manslaughter convictions are on the basis that there was no intention to kill or cause really serious injury, however there has been no confirmation of this.

The sentencing hearing is on 5 April. We will report the sentences imposed in due course.

The sentences imposed are likely to be custodial. Here is some for information on youth custodial sentences.

The BBC news reports are here and here.

Image taken from the BBC.

A welcome resolution to an unhappy saga – R.v. Imtiaz Ahmed [2013] EWCA Crim 99

The facts

In December 2004, a young mother was brutally killed by a seriously ill young man.  He was found unfit to plead and sent to a psychiatric unit where he remained for about three and a half years.  It seems he then became sufficiently lucid to be deemed fit by his responsible clinician to return to the prison system.   Since it was acknowledged by all the doctors that he remained serious mentally ill with schizophrenia, the prosecution did not take much persuading to accept his plea of guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.  At sentencing the doctors did not agree as to whether his illness was of a nature and degree that warranted his detention in a hospital (which is a pre-requisite for a hospital order).  Two doctors must support an order under s. 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and since only one did, the judge had no option but to reject the idea of a disposal under the MHA.  Again, since there was little room for argument that Mr Ahmed remained very dangerous and since the judge did not consider that the killing was so very grave as to merit a life sentence, especially given recent Court of Appeal authority in R.v. Kehoe [2009] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 41 that discretionary life sentences should be reserved for the very gravest offences, the judge’s decision to impose an indefinite sentence of imprisonment for public protection did not seem wrong in principle.  The judge took as his starting point for sentence a determinate sentence of 12 years.  He then deducted one sixth for his guilty plea (something the Court of Appeal later said was an error – it should have been one-third) deducted the 3½ years he had spent in hospital and a further 15 months in custody and came to a final total of 5 years and 3 months to serve.

First appeal hearing

Mr Ahmed challenged the length of the minimum term of his IPP.  Shortly before his appeal was due to be heard in April 2012, it became apparent that he had in fact been returned from prison to the very mental health facility from which he had been removed back in 2010.  The Court of Appeal was urged to adjourn the hearing to enable fresh grounds of appeal to be considered since it now seemed there were realistic prospects of persuading the court that the sentence of IPP was wrong in principle since a man suffering from serious mental illness ought, in principle at least, to receive treatment rather than punishment.   As the hearing had been convened the Court of Appeal adopted what they thought was a practical approach to the problem posed.  They purported to allow the appeal as to the length of the minimum term and reduced the figure to 3 years and 3 months (by deducting one-third for the guilty plea rather than one-sixth as the judge had done) and adjourned the balance of the appeal to enable fresh grounds relating to the mental health issue to be formulated and presented.  Shortly thereafter the Court of Appeal realised that it had no power to decide part of an appeal and adjourn the balance.   Accordingly the appeal was adjourned generally.

Second appeal hearing

In due course fresh reports were prepared in which two psychiatrists stated their opinions that in fact a hospital order with a restriction order under s.41 would have been appropriate at the time of sentence and in any event were certainly appropriate by the time they examined the patient.  The responsible clinician (the same man who had sent Mr Ahmed back to the prison system in 2010) did not take kindly to having his professional opinion challenged by new doctors and re-stated his opinion that at the time of the original sentence a hospital order was not justified.  He did however concede that since the patient was back in a psychiatric unit and was receiving treatment for his condition that the conditions for a hospital order were now satisfied.  So the hearing was scheduled.

A few days before the hearing the responsible clinician had a further change of mind.  He informed the Court of Appeal that in his opinion orders under s. 37/41 were not appropriate and instead the court should exercise its little used power under s.45A of the Act.  This is a provision that allows a court which has decided that a person suffering from mental illness should be sentenced to imprisonment to nonetheless make an order that rather than being taken immediately to a prison he should be transferred to a mental hospital where he could receive appropriate treatment before being returned to the prison system.  This somewhat cumbersome provision seems to have been considered necessary to deal with those prisoners who suffer from a personality disorder linked to mental illness so that they do not usually meet the criteria for a hospital order but who nevertheless do require treatment from time to time.  It seems that this provision was intended to deal with those persons who in the past had been treated as “technical lifers” as explained in R.v. Beatty [2006] EWCA Crim 2359, para. 23.  It was evidently thought that this provision would be more satisfactory than the administrative transfer of a prisoner who becomes mentally unwell through s.47 of the MHA 1983.

At the hearing in January 2013 the Court received the fresh evidence of the two new psychiatrists under s.23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, both of whom supported the making of the hospital order under sections 37/41.   The responsible clinician maintained his new stance but as is clear from paragraph 29 of the judgment it seemed that his reasons for preferring s.45A to s.37/41 had nothing to do with the treatment of the patient and was instead based on his concerns about the release provisions for someone who was in fact unlawfully in the UK in any event.  Not surprisingly the Court of Appeal did not consider that this was a proper basis for their decision.  Agreeing that the appellant was a man in need to treatment as a patient rather than punishment as a criminal the Court quashed the sentence of IPP and made the orders requested under ss.37/41.

Comment

The case does not lay down any new principles and indeed refers in paragraph 32 to a number of previous authorities including R.v. Beatty (see above) although unhelpfully not including their citations.  Nonetheless paragraph 1 to 16 of the judgment are a useful starting point for those who are unfamiliar with this area of the law and readers will find the basic principles for dealing with cases under the Mental Health Act set out there.

The transrcipt, courtesy of Crimeline, is available here.

By Mark George Q.C., counsel for Imtiaz Ahmed.

Andrew Partington sentenced for manslaughter of toddler in gas blast

Gas blastFacts

Andrew Partington, aged 28, pleaded to manslaughter.

The facts will no doubt be familiar to you – it was extensively covered in the news. In brief, Partington had a ‘stormy’ relationship with his partner. Partington cut two gas pipes in his house, because his partner had left him and taken their two children.  It was reported that he had been drinking the previous night and neighbours had heard ‘a row’ between the couple. Sky News reported that Partington had previously been violent to his partner.

He then sent a series of text messages to his partner the night before the explosion. The BBC reported that one said,

 “Told you next time you leave, house goes up with me. You left your kids with no dad no home. Goodbye. Boom. Gas pipes cut. Already filled up. Boom.”

Partington then allowed the house to fill with gas overnight. He reportedly claimed that he awoke, turned off the gas and opened the windows. At about 11.20 am, he lit a cigarette and the residual gas in the house ignited, causing an explosion.

The explosion resulted in two-year-old Jamie Heaton’s death. Jamie and his mother lived next door to Partington. Jamie’s mother survived the blast as she had gone into the back yard. The court heard that the explosion ‘obliterated’ Partington’s house and the house next door. Partington suffered 40% burns and a broken back – he is reportedly still suffering from his injuries. The blast caused around £1.2m worth of damage and for 175 houses to be evacuated.

Sentence

As usual, we don’t have the benefit of the sentencing remarks. We are therefore left with the news reports which as always, should be treated with care.

Mr Justice Hamblen said: “The resulting scene of the devastation resembled a bomb site and in some senses it was. It was in effect a bomb that you created and detonated.

“As a result of your reckless actions you have caused the death of Jamie. You have taken away his life and a large part of his parents and siblings’ lives.”

The BBC reported that the Judge accepted that Partington had had a change of heart, but noted that lighting a cigarette was highly reckless.

Partington was imprisoned for 10 years. This includes a discount for his plea of guilty, which we understand was entered in November. Assuming that the credit was 1/3, the sentence after a trial would have been around 13 years.

Of course, no sentence of a court can properly reflect that a life – and such a young one at that – has been lost. Sentences must however reflect that fact that a person has died (for example, a careless driving sentence will be increased to reflect the loss of life, where the driving is equally culpable).

So, how does this fit in with other manslaughter sentences? Well that is a difficult question. Manslaughter comprises the widest range of sentences of any offence before the courts – from a conditional discharge to life imprisonment. Sentences must reflect the particular facts of the case and because of the innumerable ways in which a manslaughter offence can be committed, the phrase ‘sentences are fact specific’ applies here more than ever.

There may be some assistance provided by manslaughter by fire cases. Making the appropriate modifications for the fact that Jamie was an unintended victim, the fact that Partington attempted to clear the house of gas and of course his plea.

10 years doesn’t seem excessive to me.

Father jailed for manslaughter of 3 month-old-child

Facts

Stephen Coukham, of Truro, Cornwall, aged 21, denied murder but admitted manslaughter; he killed his 3-month-old son, Tyrone, by shaking or throwing him. He was aged 18 at the time.

Coukham gave conflicting accounts of when Tyrone had been ill and initially claimed that the child had slipped through his hands.

The Guardian reported: A postmortem found that the baby suffered a “devastating, unsurvivable head injury”. Experts suggested shaking was the most likely cause of death and said there were other internal injuries that may have been caused before the day Tyrone died.

A health worker who visited the family said she had witnessed Coukham “rough handling” the baby, pulling him up by his arms as a two-week-old. But GPs and health professionals said they had had no cause for concern over the baby’s treatment.

Judge’s comments

Mrs Justice Sharp told him: “The precise sequence of events that led to Tyrone’s death will never be known. But you lost your temper because he was crying or wouldn’t stop crying.

“Then in a fit of temper you shook him hard, or threw him down on a soft surface, actions that were likely to cause him harm.”

The judge said she was confident that until the attack in July 2010 Coukham had been a caring parent, and that he had not intended to cause serious harm to his son.

“This crime is, in a real sense, a tragedy for all concerned. For Tyrone, whose life was cut short so young, for Kerry and Tyrone’s wider family, but also for you because you will have to live with the knowledge of what you did for the rest of your life,” she said.

Sentence and comment

Mrs Justice Sharp sentenced Coukham to 3 years and 8 months. As usual, there are no sentencing remarks available.

We know that Coukham pleaded. On the basis that he was given full credit for his plea, the Judge started at around 5½ years. Without a detailed factual background, it is difficult to accurately assess the sentence, however, we are able to ascertain the following:

  • There was an absence of intention to cause Tyrone serious harm,
  • Tyrone was not mistreated or abused,
  • Coukham’s action was (most likely) out of frustration at Tyrone continually crying,

In light of those features, his culpability is somewhat reduced. In mitigation, there is the emotional trauma that the incident will have caused Coukham, his young age and the (probable) irreparable damage it will have done to his relationship with his partner. There is also the issue of good character, which we have no information on.

Sentences for manslaughter vary wildly and for causing the death of a child (charged under Domestic Violence Crime and Victim’s Act 2004 s 5) recent sentences have ranged from 2 years up to 9 years. There is a clear link between the offence of causing the death of a child and manslaughter and the courts treat case law in one as instructive in the other.

R v Burridge 2011 EWCA Crim 2847 saw a father convicted of murder (substituted for manslaughter on appeal) where his 8 week old son had stopped breathing, suffered bleeding on the brain and rib injuries, and subsequently died. It was held that the injuries were caused by the father in a temper and under stress. He received 10 years.

In absence of further detail, it is difficult to go beyond saying that 3 years 8 months is certainly not outside the range of sentences that could be expected for the offence – in fact some may consider it lenient. Of course it is not possible to accurately assess the sentence without the fullest information.