Image from BBC News
Paul Meehan, a former neighbour of the grandmother of murdered schoolgirl Tia Sharpe has been convicted and sentenced for wasteful employment of the police – more commonly known as wasting police time.
The written remarks explaining the evidence and the reasons for finding that Meehan is guilty, are available here. Nb. This post was written prior to the release of the remarks of District Judge Hammond.
The offence is under the Criminal Law Act 1967 s 5(2).
It is a summary only offence which means it can only be tried in the Magistrates’ Court.
Meehan, a bus driver aged 40 from Croydon, had told police that he had seen Tia walk past him in street on 3 August. In fact, she had been murdered by Stuart Hazell the previous day.
There was no suggestion that Meehan had colluded with Hazell, however the description of Tia which he gave to the police complimented Hazell’s account of Tia having left the house at the time he (Hazell) alleged.
It was suggested that Meehan was attention seeking. The false statement resulted in a 24 hour delay to the police investigation into the murder.
It is interesting to read the District Judge’s ruling. Juries, as we know, don’t give reasons when they return a verdict. The Judge here sets out clearly the reasons why she found Meehan guilty (especially in light of the conflicting medical evidence).
He received 5 months’ imprisonment.
There was of course no credit for pleading guilty.
We are unaware of any details relating to his character and previous convictions. Assuming there are none, let’s consider the sentence against the maximum prescribed by statute.
The maximum is 6 months and / or a level 4 fine (£2,500).
Where the offence warrants a greater penalty than permitted under section 5(2), the CPS will routinely charge perverting the course of justice, which, as a common law offence, has no maximum sentence.
5 months is therefore towards the upper end of the scale of permitted sentences – with the absence of a malicious motive (it appears the prosecution’s case was that he was attention seeking) and assuming there is no nasty previous, that would seem on the high side.
However, the consequences can be serious. In this case, as Tia had already been murdered, the consequences were less severe – there could be no suggestion that she would have been found, safe, if it were not for Meehan’s actions. Notwithstanding that, the wasted efforts of the police and local helpers (time and cost would be taken into account) and the false hope given to the family are serious consequences which clearly the court thought it appropriate to mark with an immediate custodial sentence.
It may be worth a shot as it does seem a little on the high side for this offence. However, if charged as perverting the course of justice, there would seem a little less scope to complain, as that is a more serious offence.
The courts are not impressed by barristers inventing the worst possible case imaginable to demonstrate that a sentence close to the permitted maximum is excessive, and so any attempt to suggest that there are worse cases of wasting police time is likely to receive short shrift.
Any appeal would be by way of a rehearing in the Crown Court (as the sentence was imposed by the Magistrates’ Court. See here for more details.