Sara Ege, aged 33, was found guilty of murder and perverting the course of justice.
The factual background is quite complex; news reports from various different sources give a good understanding of the course of events (Guardian, BBC, Huffington Post)
In brief, Ege had beaten her son, Yaseen, to death. Over a prolonged period, Yaseen was beaten on a regular basis after failing in Koran studies. Teachers at his school noticed his injuries and that he was having to write with his other hand as it was too painful to write with his usual hand. Ege moved Yaseen to another school. Yaseen died in July 2010 after months of beatings.
Ege then attempted to burn Yaseem’s body in an attempt, as the Judge found, to evade liability for beating him to death.
She told police she was “getting angry too much”, adding: “I would shout at Yaseen all the time. I was getting very wild and I hit Yaseen with a stick on his back like a dog.”
She forced him to drink milk; and when she went back to him he was shaking and shivering. She did not seek medical help and the boy died. The woman then used barbecue lighting gel to set fire to his body.
The Judge found that she was a good mother in some areas and had suffered bouts of depression due to a number of factors.
It was also accepted that Sara Ege had been the victim of prolonged domestic violence.
From the Huffington Post:
“There is a further aggravating feature and that is that you attempted to burn Yaseen’s body. There can be no doubt that you set fire to his body in an attempt to evade the consequences of what you had done.”
He added: “What was your motive for acting as you did? I am satisfied that, on the day of his death, Yaseen was kept home from school so that he could dedicate himself to his (Koran) studies.
“On that day Yaseen must have failed in some way because I am satisfied that it was that failure which was the trigger for the beating.
The Judge imposed the mandatory life sentence with a minimum term of 17 years.
An explanation of the starting points for murder can be seen here.
There has been a discussion on Twitter as to whether the starting point ought to have been 30 years as a result of the perceived ‘religious motivation’. As the sentencing remarks are unavailable, and the press reports have (as usual) missed out numerous important elements from the sentencing hearing, we are left to figure it out for ourselves.
One view is that, whether the starting point is 30 years or 15 years, the result should be the same: if it is 30 years, it will be reduced to take account of the mitigation such as Ege’s depression. If it is 15 years, it will be increased to take account of the prolonged cruelty inflicted to Yaseem. Many are of the opinion that the starting points are merely political devices to enable the Government to look tough on crime.
My view is that it would be difficult to justify a 30 year starting point on the basis that it was a religiously motivated murder. As the factual background appears to be complex (although we don’t seem to have all of the facts) a far easier route to determining sentence would be to start at 15 years and add the aggravating factors on, taking account of the finding that the murder was committed due to Yaseem’s ‘failing in his studies of the Koran’.
17 years does appear low when the aggravating features seem numerous; the statutory aggravating factors appear to be: Yaseem was vulnerable because of his age, Sara Ege was in a position of trust as his mother, Yaseem suffered physical (and potentially mental) harm before his death, the attempted concealment of the cause of death. In addition, other aggravating features appear to be the prolonged period of time over which the abuse was inflicted upon Yaseem, the lies told to the police and the
Mitigation seems to be the lack of intention to kill, the mental health issues, the fact she had suffered domestic violence for a prolonged period and lack of premeditation. Further, it would appear that the Judge found that motivation was related to Yaseem’s studies and so in some perverse way, Sara Ege thought she was acting his Yaseem’s best interests.
The 17-year sentence appears to me to be low. However, as is usually the case, there are no sentencing remarks and we only have the news reports to base our assumptions on. On those news reports, I would have expected a sentence in the low 20s, as, in spite of the mitigation, this was an appalling crime with shocking cruelty inflicted on a vulnerable and innocent young child.
Whether or not there will be an Attorney-General’s Reference (prosecution appeal against sentence) remains to be seen.