Tag Archives: murder

Adebowale receives permission to appeal against 45-year minimum term


From the Guardian

Michael Adebowale, one of two men convicted for the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, has been given permission to appeal against his sentence. In January 2014, he was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment with a minimum term of 45 years. Our write-up of the sentencing hearing can be viewed here.

It is expected that he will appeal against the length of the minimum term only, as the life sentence is mandatory.

What’s the process? 

After being sentenced, a defendant has 28 days in which to lodge grounds of appeal against sentence. Once that period has expired, a defendant wanting to appeal would have to apply ‘out of time’ and provide reasons why the application is late.

Once grounds have been submitted, the case papers are prepared by the Criminal Appeal Office and placed before ‘the single judge’ – a high court judge who sits on his or her own (hence ‘single’) and reviews the case on the papers only.

The single judge then grants or refuses leave to appeal. Granting leave means a full oral hearing will follow.  Refusing leave gives the defendant one of two options: a) leave it there – the single judge has indicated that the grounds aren’t arguable, or b) renew the application for leave. This second option means that the defendant effectively ‘forces’ an oral hearing and applies once again for leave (permission to appeal) before the full court (in sentence cases this is either two or three judges).

In a renewed application, the court will consider the application for leave, and where they decide it ought to be granted, they can (but don’t have to) deal with the appeal there and then. If they refuse leave, they can make a direction for a loss of time which means any time spent in custody between applying for leave and the hearing does  not count against the sentence. In effect, it adds on some time to the sentence that has to be served.


Adebowale has received leave and so a full hearing will follow. As what ever the result, he will spend a very long time in prison, it is likely to take a good few months before it comes before the court. We will of course cover it when it does.

“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.


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.

Susan and Christopher Edwards – life for murder




We looked at the case of Susan and Christopher Edwards who were convicted of the murder of Ms Edwards mother and father (Patricia and William Wycherley) on Friday. A life sentence was guaranteed – we predicted a tariff of 22-25 years how did we do?

Well. The actual tariff was set at 25 years when sentence was passed on 23rd June 2014.


Factual Background

The murders date from 1998 when (probably) Mr Edwards killed Ms Edwards’ parents at her instigation. They buried the bodies in the back garden and then started on a sophisticated series of frauds.

This was started by taking £40,000 out of the Wycherley’s bank accounts the day after the murders. Since that date the Edwards pretended that the Wycherleys were alive and well and living in (variously) Ireland, Blackpool and Morecambe in order to collect a further £245,000.

Most of this money seems to have gone on, bizarrely, celebrity memorabilia. They gave themselves up last year after having run out of money. At that point, they stated that the bodies were in the back garden, which were duly found.



We have the sentencing remarks which, as always, repay reading. We have to say that the single thing that would help the public understanding of the criminal justice system is more publication of what happens in Court.

Anyway, the Judge sets out clearly what the starting point was – in this 14 years because of the time that they were committed. She states that it was a planned and premeditated murder, done for gain and carried out with a firearm (although the latter was not of such concern in 1998). The Judge accepted that the animosity from Ms Edwards to her father stemmed from the fact that he had sexually abused her, however it could not be said that that was the cause of the murder.

The tariff was increased by 11 years to 25 years to reflect all the aggravating features.



As we said last week, the starting point now would be over 30 years. Given that this offence pre-dates the huge increases in sentencing introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a much reduced term would be expected.

The tariff set  was at the top end of what we had suggested. Reading the sentencing remarks, it is a very strange and sad case, and presents a somewhat more mitigation than seemed at first sight. For that reason, we would have thought that a tariff of 20 years would have been more than sufficient.

For the reasons previously stated, we would have thought that whilst there will be an appeal, we would not expect it to be successful.

David Mitchell – another whole life tariff for murder of Robert Hind?

Photo from the BBC

Photo from the BBC


In 1991 David Mitchell received a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend. He had progressed through the prison system and was in an open prison in 2012 when he went AWOL. He was at large for less than 24 hours before being recaptured.

It’s not entirely clear when he was re-released, but in December 2013 he was in the community (whether on day release or otherwise) when he killed Robert Hind, a convicted sex offender.

On 9th June 2014 Mr Mitchell pleaded guilty to murder. Sentencing has been adjourned. Details are sketchy as to Mr Mitchell’s motives and exactly how the murder occurred, but we do know that Mr Hind ‘had died of head injuries and strangulation‘ and his remains were found in a river a few days after he had been killed.


What sentence will Mr Mitchell get?

Well, the mandatory sentence for murder is the life sentence. The key question is what tariff will Mr Mitchell get. Looking at the different starting points, because Mr Mitchell has a previous conviction for murder, the starting point is a whole life tariff.

The Judge will not be bound to pass a whole life tariff, but that will be the starting point. We don’t know why the sentence was adjourned – it could be to get psychiatric or other reports to see whether a whole life tariff is needed.

We will have a look when he is sentenced, but Mr Mitchell is now 46. If he doesn’t get a whole life tariff, he will get a tariff of around 40 years we would imagine. Either way, he won’t be going anywhere soon, and we imagine that he would only be released at the end of his life if he is terminally ill.


Does this show that people who get a life sentence shouldn’t be released?

No. You can’t extrapolate from one case to a general penal policy.

Mohammud Yusuf – 25-year minimum term for sexual murder


Mohammud Yusuf was today sentenced for murder.


On 18th October 2013 police were called to an address in Neasden after a carer had reported that one of the women she looked after had been attacked. Amoe Stevens was taken to hospital but died shortly afterwards of her injuries.

Her son in law, Mohammud Yusuf, was quickly arrested. He lived with Ms Stevens daughter (Margaret) and their two children. It was alleged that after Margaret had left the house, Mr Yusuf attacked her mother – it seems that this was not the first occasion that this had happened.

The prosecution stated that there was a sexual motive for this, and put forward evidence that Mr Yusuf had an ‘obsession with violent pornography’ and his mobile phone had ‘searches for pornographic videos showing violent rape, gang rape and incest’.


On 2nd June 2014 Mr Yusuf was unanimously convicted of murder. Sentence was adjourned until Friday 6 June..

Judge’s comments

The Judge made various comments about the gravity of the offence – “This lady suffered the most agonising death imaginable … I have never come across such a factual background of a case like this”,


As well you know by now, there is only one sentence for murder – mandatory life. The question facing the Judge was how long was the tariff going to be?

Our factsheet on murder sentencing is here.

We don’t have the Judge’s sentencing remarks (yet) but it was thought that this may well be considered to be a murder ‘involving sexual or sadistic conduct‘, which would give a starting point of 30 years. From there, the Judge would have to consider whether to move up or down (or both) to reflect the aggravation and mitigation.

In the event, the Judge imposed a 25-year minimum term. There was no discount for a guilty plea, which in murder cases is limited to 1/6 or 5 years.

We are unaware of the exact facts – and the extent of the injuries – and so making an assessment of the length of minimum term is difficult.

What we are able to say though, however, is that whether the Judge selected a 30-year minimum term (based on sexual conduct – which seems likely) or a 15-year term (having decided that the higher starting point didn’t apply, it is the eventual total that matters.

Moving down from 30 to reflect mitigation, or moving up from 15 to reflect aggravation is simply two routes to the same end; the correct sentence.

As we have said, we are unsure as to whether this is too short so we will wait for the sentencing remarks to see how the Judge arrived at the 25-year figure.

Ahmed Al-Khatib jailed for life for ‘honour killing’ of Rania Alayed

Manchester Evening News

Manchester Evening News


On 4th June 2014 Ahmed Al-Khatib was found guilty of murdering Rania Alayed, his wife. He was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years. His brother, Muhaned Al Khatib, was cleared of murder but sentenced to 3 years for Perverting the Course of Justice which he had previously admitted. This related to the hiding of Ms Alayed’s body.

A third brother, Hussain Al-Khatib, was found guilty of Perverting the Course of Justice and sentenced to 4 years in prison. This also related to the disposal of the body (which has still not been found).

The Prosecution alleged that the motive for the killing was a concern that Ms Alayed was “becoming ‘too Westernised’ for her controlling husband’s liking.” We don’t have the sentencing remarks, so we don’t know whether this was accepted by the Judge.

What  we do have from the news reports is the following :

The judge said that he was sure it was Ahmed’s intention to kill and that his ‘main motive was jealousy’.

“How you killed Rania may never be known but I think it’s likely you strangled or smothered her, your actions after you murdered Rania showed no remorse – you thought she deserved to die”, he added.

The judge went on to say that Ahmed may have had a ‘breakdown’ since his arrest, but there was ‘no doubt at all’ that he had ‘hugely exaggerated’ his symptons and that his courtoom outbursts were ‘deliberately staged’.

“Your ridiculous claim that when you killed Rania you were acting in self-defence after seeing her turn into a devil trying to strangle you was a further insult to her memory and the jury’s intelligence.



The sentence ‘feels’ right given the facts. Looking at the aggravating features, the main one is the disposal of the body. There don’t appear to be any mitigating features (bar possibly his mental health, although the Judge wasn’t too impressed by that). The fact that he was intending to kill his wife is not an aggravating feature and there is a bit of concern about the Judge comments about the ‘ridiculous claim’ that Mr Ahmed put forward. A defendant should not be penalised for having a trial.

So, looking at it that way, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was an appeal. A tariff of 17-18 would not have been one that could be criticised, but I doubt that the Court of Appeal would interfere with this one.

On a separate note, I am surprised that there has not been any calls for there to be a higher starting point for honour killings. In practice, the higher level of planning that is often involved, will commonly lead to a higher sentence, but I wouldn’t bet against seeing someone suggest a 20 or 25 year tariff for such murders.

Why doesn’t a life sentence mean life anymore?




One of the difficult things when you’re talking about crime and the criminal justice system is that most people don’t let the facts get in the way of their opinions. This isn’t just the MoJ when it comes to the question of what lawyers get paid – there is a huge amount of wrong information about that, and none more so than sentencing.

Murder is always an emotive topic that arouses strong feelings. That doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to actually use facts when discussing it however. If I had a pound for every time that someone said something along the lines of “we’re too soft nowadays, life was supposed to mean life, not 15 years” then, well I’d still be writing this, but I’d be doing it whilst reclining on a hammock in the sunshine sipping a cocktail rather than a cup of tepid tea.

It’s not just tabloids that do this. Thanks to Jonathan Bild who gave a slight steer on this, we have looked at Hansard for when the provisions of Sch 21 Criminal Justice Act 2003 (that guides the current sentencing practice for murder) and note that David Blunkett said “When the death penalty was abolished—I am wholly in favour of that—it was presumed that those who committed such an act against their fellow human beings would go down for the rest of their lives“. Mr Blunkett is not just another politician, he was Home Secretary at the time and the 2003 Bill was ‘his’ one. And a politician is not going to lie or make a mistake about such an important matter is he?

Did life mean life?

So, is Mr Blunkett right? Have we all been sold a pup here? Have pesky human right laws, quite probably of foreign origin, conspired with the permissive society to mean we have gone soft on crime?

No. In a word. ‘Far from it’ in three. When the death sentence was abolished in 1965 it was envisaged that those that were convicted of murder would generally receive a life sentence with a tariff of around 10-12 years. Since then sentencing in general, and for murder in particular, has gone up and up (whilst the tabloids constantly claim, untruthfully, that we sentence more and more leniently). 

At that time most people convicted of murder would spend 8 or 9 years before being released – Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, a Tory MP, noted in the debate about the death penalty in 1956, “a life sentence, which, on the average, now means a sentence of only nine years’ imprisonment” and this continued in the 10 years after (if anything the trend was downward).

That’s not the complete picture of course as this only relates to people that weren’t executed. About half of those convicted of murder were sent to the gallows (a surprisingly low amount to my mind). Of those that weren’t, these would be skewed towards those who were convicted of less serious murders that would attract a lower tariff (for example, under 18s weren’t liable for the death penalty).

But when Parliamentarians were considering the abolition of capital punishment in 1965 whilst there were some who called for whole life tariffs, these were in the minority. MPs were under no illusions that in most cases a murderer would be released after 10 or so years.

From the horse’s mouth

Don’t believe me? There’s not much you can do better than read the debates on what became the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965.

It is clear that it was felt that sentences of longer than 10 years were felt by many to be wrong in principle and counter-productive. This is Sir Frank Soskice (the Home Secretary at the time of abolition and therefore someone very familiar with the procedure) on the topic : “nine years, experience shows, is round about the time when one may begin to get symptoms to show that the person in prison is beginning to break down. Therefore, in practice a number of persons have been released after nine years in prison.” As a laugh, try imagine Theresa May standing up at the Dispatch Box and saying this. 

It was confirmed in the debate that in 1964, apart from people in Broadmoor, there were six people in the prison system who had been detained for longer than ten years. Six. That is an astonishingly low number. Even if it is wrong by a factor of many hundred percent, then it is a world away from where we are now.

Sir Frank recognised that some people (who would nowadays get a tariff of over 30) may need to remain in prison for much longer than that “I should regard it as essential …  in the case of [those] who serve long periods of imprisonment—to do everything I could to give [them] the kind of human contacts, the variety and interest in life, the comfort, the general possibility of activity and of developing his own personality, and so on, which would make it possible for him to stand up to a long period of imprisonment without deterioration” – not words that would ever have passed David Blunkett’s lips.

He did recognise that these cases would be rare, and for most murderers they”must be punished, obviously, but when I receive reports that he is a person who has accommodated himself well to prison life and that a time has arrived to consider his release, whether it is after nine years of imprisonment, eight and a half, eight or ten years, depending upon the circumstances of the case, I would find it very difficult, in the exercise of my discretion, not to say that he should be released on licence“.


So. Don’t believe the hype. It’s nearly 50 years since the death penalty was abolished and in that period of time the mean tariff for murder has now gone above 20 years and is rising. This is not just the case with murder, but with all sentences. I’m not writing this to comment on whether that’s a good thing (though you can probably guess my views), but merely to point out that we should try to not make up facts when debating this. 

How times have changed

I’ll finish this off with two quotes from Hansard, one from a Conservative Home Secretary and one from a Conservative Attorney-General.

This is from Sir John Hobson (a former Solicitor General and then AG) – “The view that every murderer ought to be sentenced to life automatically proceeds from the fallacious parrot-cry which we are constantly hearing—that murder is a unique crime. I do not believe that it is. Many murders are unique crimes, but quite a few are not. After all, the difference between some murders and attempted murders is only that the former succeeded. What the accused did is precisely and exactly the same in each case, and yet on conviction for attempted murder the judge has to determine whether he ought to sentence the accused to life imprisonment, or whether it is safe to give him a determinate sentence and allow him out in a shorter time.

I haven’t seen a better argument, or one put as simply, against the mandatory life sentence for murder as that one.

Next up, Henry Brook, the Home Secretary in the Tory government the year before :

Here we come up against the fact that our prison arrangements are generally geared to maximum terms of 9, 10 or 11 years. A 14-year sentence imposed by the court may be reduced, with full one-third remission, to 9⅓ years. It is believed, and I have no reason to doubt it, that few people have enough resolution to endure more than ten years’ confinement in normal prison conditions. The longer a man is kept in after that the less fit may he be ever to be released.

Unless we are to contemplate keeping some people in for the rest of their natural lives—we may have to do so, but it is a most terrible thing to contemplate in the case of a young man sentenced, perhaps, in his twenties—we must bear in mind that there comes a time beyond which most people will become less and less fit for return to the free world. Such a man may lose all his self-reliance and all the strength of will which will be needed for supporting himself as a free man in the free world outside.” 

Now, he may have been happier than most MPs at lengthy sentences, but can you imagine Dominic Grieve (one of the most liberal Tories) or Theresa May (no comment) saying anything as liberal or as compassionate, as the above?