On 21 March 2016, Clayton Williams, 19, was convicted of manslaughter.
Williams had been charged with murder and, in the alternative, manslaughter. The jury acquitted him of murder but convicted him of manslaughter.
In the early hours of 5 October 2015, PC Phillips was on duty. Williams had taken part in a burglary of a shop and was in a stolen Mitsubishi truck, with his co-accused Phillip Stuart, aged 30. Stuart pleaded guilty to burglary. There followed a high-speed police chase. PC Phillips was crouched at the roadside attempting to lay a “stinger” trap, designed to puncture the tires of the vehicle to bring it to a stop. The vehicle, driven by Williams and travelling at approximately 50mph struck PC Phillips. He was thrown into the air and later died from the catastrophic injuries caused by the collision.
Williams was described as “a cannabis user from the age of six who never attended high school, [and who] inhabited a “grim world” of drugs and crime on the streets of Merseyside”. He had numerous previous convictions for burglary, theft, dangerous driving and drugs. At the time of the offence he was on licence following release from a sentence of 32 months in a Young Offender Institution for an offence of dangerous driving in which he “narrowly missed a pedestrian” and had struck a lamp post during another police chase having stolen a vehicle during a burglary.
After the offence, Williams had attempted to cover his tracks by dumping the vehicle, burning the clothing he was wearing at the time, giving away his phone and seeking refuge in a hostel.
Williams had told the jury that he had only intended to drive around the stinger and did not intend to strike PC Phillips with the vehicle. He also said that he would “do anything” to escape the police.
Williams was convicted of manslaughter and cleared of murder. He had already pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.
Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but unlike murder, the sentence is discretionary. Causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
There appears to be a little confusion over the sentence imposed on Williams: it has widely been reported as “20 years” yet it has been understood to mean different things. Some on social media appear to believe the sentence to be a life sentence with a minimum term of 20 years, others understand it to be a determinate sentence of 20 years.
The confusion is not helped by the fact that Williams is under 21 and therefore any custodial sentence imposed on him is not one of “imprisonment”. For reasons best known to Parliament, there is a prohibition on imposing a sentence of imprisonment on those under 21. As such, a custodial sentence given to anyone under 21 is given a different label depending on the age of the offender.
In this case, Williams, aged 19, received a sentence of detention in a young offender institution for a period of 20 years. This is not a life sentence and so is subject to the usual rules about release. This in essence means Williams will be released after the half way point of his sentence. He will then remain on licence for a period of 10 years and is able to be recalled during that period.
No prison sentence can ever properly reflect the loss of life; for any media outlets suggesting that the court has decided that PC Phillips’ life was “worth” 20 years, such a view is entirely wrong.
As to the issue of a life sentence, a life sentence would have been available via one of two routes: a) that Williams was dangerous (i.e. he posed a significant risk of serious harm) and the offence was serious enough to warrant a life sentence or b) that, relying upon the court’s inherent jurisdiction to impose a life sentence, the gravity of the offence required such a sentence. Mr Justice William Davis clearly considered that Williams was not dangerous and so the only option was a determinate custodial sentence
This was described by the judge as a very grave offence of manslaughter – that cannot be argued with. Interestingly, had Williams been convicted of murder, he would have been facing a mandatory life sentence with a minimum term of 30 years. There is obviously a link between the sentencing of murder and manslaughter but of course there has to be a difference in the sentences to reflect the lack of intention to kill or cause serious harm.
We expect the sentencing remarks to be published as the case is of interest to the public and the press. We’ll return to the issue of sentence when the remarks are published as we’ll then be able to better consider the length of the sentence and the issue of dangerousness.