On 19th August 2014 nineteen year old Brusthom Ziamani was arrested with a 12 inch knife, a hammer and an Islamic Flag. An extremely recent (as in 4 months) convert to Islam, he had told his girlfriend that he was going to go and behead a British soldier having been inspired by the killers of Lee Rigby.
He was convicted on 19th February 2015 of one count of preparing a terrorist act and was sentenced on 20th March to an extended sentence of 22 years with a five year licence.
Facts and sentence
The sentencing remarks have been published, which is always enormously helpful. The Judge noted that, on the evidence, there was no “doubt there can be that, had the defendant not been arrested on 19th. August, then within hours – at most – he would have used the hammer and knife to carry out the intention he had so clearly expressed and for which he had so determinedly prepared, with the result that an act of horrifying savagery would again have been perpetrated on the streets
of London, in imitation of MICHAEL ADEBOLAJO and MICHAEL ADEBOWALE, whose crime this defendant had so explicitly and repeatedly applauded.
It is, therefore, an unavoidable and entirely justifiable conclusion that the defendant was looking for another Drummer Rigby but, if he couldn’t find a soldier, I have little doubt that a police officer or other figure of authority would have suited his purpose just as well“.
There are no sentencing guidelines, but the Judge referred to Dart  EWCA Crim 2158 and Khan  EWCA Crim 468, which both basically say that the case covers such wide behaviour that it is impossible to give guidance, and everything is fact specific. There is guidance of sorts from the latter case as follows:
- It is not the purpose of this judgment to seek to set out guidelines or indicative sentences for terrorism which comes in many different forms. Offences range from murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder, through causing explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property (s. 2 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883), conspiracy or possession with intent to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property (s. 3 of the 1883 Act) to engaging in conduct in preparation for or assisting in committing acts of terrorism contrary to s. 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006. This last offence is particularly wide covering acts just short of an attempt to conduct that only just crosses the line into criminality.
- A number of principles, however, can properly be emphasised. First, as with any criminal offence, s. 143 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 directs the sentence to consider culpability and harm: in most cases of terrorist offences, the former will be extremely high. Second, the purpose of sentence for the most serious terrorist offences is to punish, deter and incapacitate. Rehabilitation will play little, if any part: see Martin  1 Cr App R (S) 477. Third, the starting point for sentence for an inchoate offence is the sentence that would have been imposed if the objective had been achieved with an attempt to commit the offence being more serious than a conspiracy: see Barot  1 Cr App R(S) 31. Fourth, sentences that can be derived from Martin – or, indeed, any cases before the impact or effect of Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 identifying minimum terms for murder – are of historical interest only and do not provide any assistance as to the approach which should now be adopted: for the impact of Schedule 21 in uplifting determinate sentences, see AG’s Reference Nos 85-87 of 2007  2 Cr App R (S) 45 and, in relation to terrorism, Jalil  2 Cr App R (S) 40 at paras. 22 and 24.
- Finally, because of the enormous breadth of potential offences (and, consequently, the differing potential assessment of culpability and harm depending on the precise facts), we do not consider it appropriate to seek to provide guidelines based on these cases alone (or a combination of these cases and those in Jalil). If guidelines are needed, a better course would be for the offences to be considered by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales although we readily accept that breadth of s. 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 would make the task of providing guidelines extremely difficult.
The Judge found Mr Ziamani to be ‘dangerous’ and decided that an Extended Sentence should be passed (see here for what this means). In light of his age (the only real mitigation, although he was of good character) he passed a sentence of 22 years with a 5 year extension period.
This means that Mr Ziamani will have to serve a minimum of 14 years and 8 months before he can ask the Parole Board to consider his release.
The offence is very wide. At least if it is the offence that we think that it is – the one under s5 Terrorism Act 2006, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A person is guilty if “with the intention of (a) committing acts of terrorism, or (b) assisting another to commit such acts, he engages in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention.”
This is obviously very wide, much wider than what would be required for an attempt.
Will there be an appeal? Probably. We don’t know much about the conviction, but there’s nothing to indicate that there is any problem with it.
As for the sentence, it is extremely long on any view, especially for someone aged 19. For that reason, and coupled with the lack of guidelines and public interest in terrorism cases, we would expect the Court of Appeal to take the case to hear it, even if the sentence is upheld.