Tag Archives: robbery

Skullcracker gets another life sentence for another robbery

From the BBC News website

From the BBC News website

Michael Wheatley – the Skullcracker – pleaded guilty to robbery, possession of a firearm and being unlawfully at large on 7 May.

On 29 May, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum period of 10 years.

Wheatley was in prison for numerous armed robberies. He was on day release and failed to return. Predictably, he went and robbed a bank (£18,000) and was subsequently caught in east London.

Previous

As has been widely publicised, he had extensive previous. He had 23 previous convictions for robbery, two for attempted robbery and 18 for related firearms offences.

In 2002, he was given 13 life sentences for bank robberies.

Escape

He was serving a life sentence at an open prison when he failed to return from day release.

The BBC reported that ‘He had gone on the run twice in the past and each time staged a series of violent robberies before being caught and re-jailed.’

Sentence

So a straightforward life sentence? Er, not quite.

Wheatley was sentenced for the robbery and the related firearm counts. There are four types of life sentence in England and Wales:

1)      Mandatory life (murder cases only)

2)      Discretionary life (where the offender is ‘dangerous’)

3)      Discretionary life (where the offender is not ‘dangerous’)

4)      Automatic life (where the offender has particular previous convictions)

So which applies here?

Considering his previous convictions, it is undoubted that Wheatley is ‘dangerous’ within the meaning of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which provides the power to imprison someone for life.

But also, due to his previous convictions, automatic life (also known as ‘two strikes life’) also applies. Here’s why:

a)      At the time of the new offence, Wheatley has a previous conviction (more than one actually) for armed robbery – this is a requirement under CJA 2003 Sch 15B

b)      The sentence(s) received a custodial term of either 10 years + or a life sentence

c)      He now, after 3 December 2012 (because that is when the automatic life sentence was available from) has another conviction for a CJA 2003 Sch 15B offence – armed robbery

d)     The sentence for the new offence is worth 10 years + or life

We don’t have a transcript so it may be that the Judge got it bang on. But what should have happened? The Judge should have considered dangerousness and recorded that Wheatley was dangerous and therefore was receiving a life sentence under those provisions. He should then have considered automatic life and recorded that Wheatley was also subject to those provisions.

Anything else?

The Judge should probably have made an order for Wheatley to pay £120 victim surcharge, although due to sloppy legistlative drafting this is not entirely clear.

A point of note

The way in which the automatic life sentence works means that in very rare cases, someone could receive a life sentence for an offence which does not carry life as its maximum. Here’s why:

The list of offences in Sch 15B contains offences which do not carry life as a maximum – making etc. indecent images of children (10 years) for example. If a person had a conviction for rape (max sentence life) and received 12 years, and then subsequently was convicted of the indecent images offence, and would (but for the automatic life provisions) receive the maximum 10 year sentence, automatic life would apply and they would be  in line for a life sentence, even though the new offence a) wasn’t ‘worth’ a life sentence and b) the maximum sentence for the new offence wasn’t life imprisonment.

Funny huh?

So why doesn’t life mean life?

We had a look at this issue previously, here. In essence, the ‘life’ in life sentence refers not to the imprisonment, but the sentence as a whole, being made up of a custodial term, and the life licence which the offender is subject to upon his or her release.

 

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Notorious gang member Sean Bradish faces further life sentences having committed another spate of robberies

Sean Bradish, 46, is facing another life sentence following the commission of four armed raids between April and September 2012.

Bradish poses with champagne after a spate of robberies in 2002

photo courtesy of BBC News

The first life sentences

Bradish was originally convicted in 2001, following a trial, of four offences; conspiracy to rob, 2 offences of having a firearm with intent to commit robbery and an offence of having an imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery.  He was sentenced to three automatic life sentences, to run concurrently, with two years concurrent for the imitation firearm.  The sentencing judge fixed a notional determinate sentence of 15 years and a specified minimum term of six years and seven months, having taken into account the 10 months he spent on remand prior to trial.

The second life sentences

A second trial took place in 2002, where Bradish was convicted of four offences; conspiracy to rob, conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to commit robbery, and two offences of robbery.  He received four life sentences, to run concurrently.  The sentencing judge fixed a notional determinate sentence of 28 years, and a specified period of 13 years and 5 months’ imprisonment, having taken into account time on remand.  In sentencing, Judge Forrester said:

“The robberies themselves were carried out with ruthless efficiency and determination, usually to the terror of the public, who were threatened with guns, forcing the staff to hand over money. Not only the public, but the bank staff and the guards manning security vehicles, you made victims of all of them.

… It can be said … that no one was seriously, physically injured — and I stress physically — that is true, although a firearm was discharged on one occasion. You had no need to discharge your loaded firearms … The reason you had no need was because you got what you wanted by the threats at the point of a gun.”

Steven Roberts, a fellow member Bradish’s gang, gave evidence against Bradish in these earlier trials and received a reduced sentence of 8 years.  He gave an insight into the offending in an interview with The Observer in 2002:

‘I first met the Bradish brothers in 1993 when I was drinking in a pub off the Stonebridge Estate [a notorious north London area] which was frequented by at least 18 well-known armed robbers. I was making a living from robbing drug dealers, something I’d started with a couple of old school friends a few years earlier.

‘We had become quite sophisticated. I’d got hold of a police badge and walkie-talkie. I would knock on the dealer’s door, show them the badge, explain there had been an accident, and ask if I could use their phone because my radio wasn’t working.

‘As soon as they opened up a bunch of us would rush in, tie them up and threaten them at gunpoint until they told us where the drugs and money were.

‘It was a good living. One time we came away with £46,000 in cash, another time we got a kilo of cocaine. It was the perfect crime because they couldn’t go to the police.’

‘He [Bradish] asked if I wanted to come along on the robbery and I agreed. We parked around the back of the Thomas Cook in Edgware. He went in first and I followed, locking the door behind me. Sean then shouted at the cashier: “Open the fucking door!” She turned round and said “Oh God, not you again” – he’d already robbed the place five times before.

‘We were in there for less than 20 seconds and came away with £24,000. It was incredible.’

‘After that we’d go to the nearest shop and buy a whole new outfit. Everything we had [worn during the robbery] would be thrown away so there would be no forensic evidence. We always bought designer clothes – everything had a label.

‘Then it would be off to the pub for a bit of dinner. By 6pm we’d start taking the cocaine and then go out. We wouldn’t be back until Monday morning, and would easily spend £3,000 on drink and drugs over the weekend. Sometimes we would do two robberies a week.’

In 2012 Bradish was released from prison and raided four banks across London between April and September 2012.  In each raid he brandished an imitation gun and left each bank with over £40,000.

The third life sentences

On 14th February 2014 at the Old Bailey, Bradish pleaded guilty to six robberies, one attempted robbery, and seven counts of possession of an imitation firearm with intent.  Judge Nicholas Cooke QC adjourned sentence until February 20, but warned Bradish that he will receive an automatic life sentence.  See the Evening Standard news report for more details.

Sentencing comments courtesy of Westlaw

interview quotations courtesy of The Observer