The BBC (and all the newspapers that we have seen – the Mirror for example) did public understanding of sentencing a disservice in their coverage of the hearing of the Parole Board that directed the release of Tracey Connelly, the mother of ‘Baby P’ from custody.
At this stage, news reports are pretty scant. What will leave some people scratching their head is this line (variants of which appeared on other websites) – Ms Connelly “was jailed indefinitely, with a recommended minimum term of five years in May 2009“.
Five years from May 2009 is May 2014. So how come can she be released before then? Is this an indication that sentencing law in England is very, very silly?
‘No’ is the short answer. What has happened here is an example of the press not reporting things properly. Ms Connelly received a sentence of IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection). We have a separate factsheet on how these operate, but, in brief, the Judge concluded that Ms Connelly was a potential danger to the public and could only be released when it was safe to do so.
He had to fix a ‘minimum term’ and this would have been calculated as being half the determinate sentence that otherwise would have been imposed (in this case 10 years). From that, he would have deducted any time spent on remand. In this case we have the sentencing remarks (thanks to Neil Powell for pointing them out!). We can see that Ms Connelly spent 644 days (1 year, 279 days) on remand before she was sentenced. This means that her actual tariff would have been 3 years and 86 days. This would mean that the earliest date she could have been released was about 1st August 2012. She has actually stayed in prison ‘over tariff’ by more than a year.
So, is the justice system bonkers? No. This all makes sense. It’s just sloppy reporting that misleads the public.
Note : Thanks to Neil for pointing that out – we had originally used the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of one of Ms Connelly’s co-defendants, Jason Owen (you can read that judgment here) which is still worth reading.