95 year old ‘spared jail’ for Attempted Murder

95 year old ‘spared jail’ for Attempted Murder

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Photo from the BBC

Introduction 

We have looked on many occasions at the question of prosecuting and sentencing the elderly. The most recent development was when the Court of Appeal heard (and dismissed) the appeals of two men aged 96 and 101 against the sentences for sexual offences imposed on them.

It’s worth reading, but the headline is that whilst old age is a relevant factor, it is only a limited one to put into the factors that a Judge much consider.

On 25th April 2017 we had an interesting example of sentencing a nonagenarian for a non-sexual offence.

 

Facts and Sentence 

Denver Beddows (95) had been married to his 88 year old wife Olive for 65 years, and appeared to be a loving couple, devoted to each other.

On 4th February 2017 they were at home. Mr Beddows said that his wife, who’s physical and mental health had been deteriorating, asked him to kill her as she was terrified of going into care.

Mr Beddows has a long history of depression, and who was “clearly under a great degree of mental strain and was not thinking straight” hit her on the head with a frying pan before bludgeoning her with a lump hammer.

When the police came, he said to them “I have made a mess of it and now she is still suffering… Why didn’t she die?

“She is the most beautiful woman in the world and I have made it worse. I would happily be a murderer.

In light of that, he pleaded guilty to attempted murder.

Mrs Beddows is still in hospital, but has made a good recovery and has forgiven her husband.

The Judge said that it was an exceptional case, with Mr Beddows doing what he did as a ‘last resort’, saying in Court that “Although this was a terrible crime, the blame which attaches to you for what you did is far outreached by the tragedy of the situation,

Mr Beddows was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, but suspended for 2 years (it was not stated what the conditions, if any, were).

 

Comment

This was clearly a tragic case, and a very difficult one to sentence. On the facts that are in the newspaper, the Judge would seem to have done his job and passed a sentence out of the ordinary range to reflect the particular circumstances.

It is worth considering the Sentencing Guidelines for Attempted Murder. It was a Level 3 offence – a spontaneous offence. The exact injuries are not known, but it would seem that Ms Beddows is still in hospital, so it would probably be some physical (or psychological) harm at the least.

This gives a starting point of 12 years, with a range of 9-17 years. Mr Beddows pleaded guilty so is entitled to a third off, but even if it as at the bottom of the range, that would still be 6 years. It is clear that the sentence was well outside the expected range.

As can be seen, there were a variety of factors at play, of which age was only one. On what the Court of Appeal has said, the fact that Mr Beddows was 95 was not a mitigating factor of much weight. Clearly taken with everything else, it was enough to mean the Judge could take a wholly different approach.

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  1. The two year suspended sentence is a curious beast. Nominally, the Judge ought to set the period of imprisonment and then – if it is two years or less – consider whether to exercise their discretion to suspend. Yet in many of these difficult cases, the complex matrix of aggravating and mitigating factors just so happens to point towards a 2 year sentence which the Judge then graciously decides to suspend.

    Are we to imagine that if Mr Beddows had delayed his guilty plea by a few weeks so that he got perhaps only a 30% deduction and a sentence of 2 years and one month, the Judge would have dutifully passed a sentence of immediate custody?

    The general public’s view of cases like this amounting to being “spared jail” is not without foundation – would it not be more intellectually honest to have passed the sentence which describes the punishment – i.e. a conditional discharge?

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