On 14 December 2016, Richard Ford was sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment, following guilty pleas to 10 counts of making a threat to kill.
Ford was a serving prisoner, having been sentenced to 30 months for possession of a knife. He made threats to kill numerous individuals and then to have sexual intercourse with their corpses. The individuals included a district judge, a police officer, a former partner and a fellow inmate. Ford passed notes to a prison officer containing lists of intended victims.
Ford had expressed a desire never to be released from prison and has spent most of the previous 14 years in custody. It is not known what sentences he was serving for what offences.
Making a threat to kill is an offence under s.16 of the OAPA 1861. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and is a serious specified violent offence (CJA 2003 Sch.15).
BBC News reported that via a combination of concurrent and consecutive sentences, Ford received a total of 45 years. It is unclear how these 10 sentences were structured.
The BBC reported that judge said Ford was “plainly dangerous” and “would pose a grave and immediate danger to the public”.
The judge continued:
“I realise that the overall length of the sentences I am going to pass is highly unusual and may be controversial but I pass them because I deem them to be the only adequate way to protect the public in your case,”
“You say you don’t feel that you can stop yourself from acting upon your sadistic urges. Those urges are to kill and have sexual intercourse with the corpses of those whom you kill.
“You have made it clear to me that you do not wish to be released from prison. If you are released you think you will get drunk, obtain a weapon and kill.”
This is a remarkable sentence. At least three points arise:
- The length of the sentence
- The maximum sentence for making a threat to kill
The judge regarded Ford as “dangerous”. This finding made certain sentences for public protection available. Although discretionary life was not available (because the maximum sentence for making a threat to kill is 10 years not life), nor was automatic life (as Ford did not have a previous CJA 2003 Sch.15B offence) an extended determinate sentence was available.
[Formerly, an IPP would have been available – this was akin to a life sentence but there was no requirement that the offence carried life as its maximum. When this was abolished in 2012, the EDS and discretionary life became the only options for those who were considered to be dangerous.]
An EDS is a determinate sentence which has attached to it a period of extended licence. The custodial portion is calculated in the usual way – by determining what the offending is “worth”. The extended licence portion is where the public protection element comes in – the judge determines how long the offender should be on licence in order for the state to keep tabs on him for the purpose of public protection. Additionally, since 2015, EDS prisoners must go before the parole board at the 2/3 point of their sentence to ask to be released. If they are refused, they can serve the entire term in custody before being released on the extended licence. We have a fact sheet on extended sentences here.
It is unclear why the judge, having found Ford to be dangerous, proceeded to impose a “normal” determinate sentence, rather than an EDS which has an extra element of public protection.
Would a hospital order have been a better disposal? It is reported that there was no medical advice to the effect that a hospital order was suitable. In such circumstances, taking that course is not an option.
The length of the sentence is concerning. While we only have the brief news reports to go on, it is apparent that this sentence is far too long. Totality is always an issue which crops up in multiple offending cases – the judge has to work out what is the appropriate sentence for all the offending, not merely add up the sentences for the individual offences. Here, the judge appears to have attempted to do that. In doing so, he has arrived at a figure of 45 years, which seems grossly disproportionate. A 45 year determinate term is equivalent (in terms of length) as a life sentence with a minimum term of 22.5 years. That is an appropriate sentence for a violent murder with a knife (guilty plea).
We don’t have all the facts but we would expect this sentence to be appealed and to be reduced, by some margin.
Threats to kill
Should the maximum sentence be increased to life? Perhaps. Fortunately such cases arise so infrequently that this issue very rarely arises. It would appear that an EDS sentence would have sufficed here, and so perhaps there is no need for another call to raise maximum sentences.