The killing, now accepted to be a murder, of schoolteacher Ann Maguire in her classroom on 28th April 2014 shocked the country. She was killed by one of her pupils – William Cornick aged 15 years and 10 months at the time – who stabbed her seven times in the back and neck seemingly as part of a plan to kill three teachers. The BBC and the Guardian both contain further details of the killing and, reading them, you can see why the Judge described the behaviour as ‘chilling’. The Daily Mail is slightly more sensationalist, but contains some further details.
On 3rd November he pleaded guilty to murder (having previously admitted the killing) and was sentenced to life (as he was under 18, it is not life imprisonment, but has the same effect). The tariff was set at 20 years.
The starting point, as he is under 18, is 12 years. Why then the large increase to 20 years?
The Guardian reported that the Judge increased the tariff because of “seven aggravating features including the fact that it was premeditated, committed in public, in front of children and witnesses who were “traumatised”, and that Maguire had died in “extreme pain”.”
Premeditation is certainly a statutory aggravating feature. As for the rest, whilst it is true that they do aggravate the case, it is hard to see why this would have such a huge increase (effectively doubling the tariff), especially when some allowance has to be made for the fact that he was only 15 at the time of the offence.
We would have thought that an increase to perhaps 18 years would have been appropriate (roughly, it’s not an exact science of course). After that, credit has to be given for a plea of guilty. Although the plea was entered long after the event, it seems that he accepted his guilt early on and the case was adjourned, for understandable reasons, to investigate his mental state. In light of that, we would have expected the full discount of one sixth.
This would give a tariff of 15 years. It could easily have been less, but it is hard to see it could have been that much more. It’s clear that there are some very worrying aspects to this boy’s character that may well mean he remains in prison far longer than that, many many years passed his tariff, but that is catered for in the sentence of life imprisonment, and shouldn’t justify an increase in the minimum term, which is for punishment rather than protection.
The remarks are now available and are worth reading. The judge begins at 12 years (as Sch.21 of the CJA 2003 requires) but then takes account of the starting point for adult offenders who take weapons to the scene. He makes a deduction to reflect Cornick’s youth and adjustment disorder and so having raised the starting point to 25 years, it ends up at 20 years.
Some will say 20 years is too long for a boy who, at the time, was only 15 years old. Others will say it is not a day too long.
We have spotted one error in the sentencing remarks: the judge stated that the minimum term cannot be reduced. Whilst this is the norm for adult offenders, this is not the situation for those sentenced to detention during HM’s pleasure, whose tariffs are kept under review.