Grahame Lawler – when to go outside the guidelines?

Grahame Lawler – when to go outside the guidelines?

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On Friday 2nd November Grahame Lawler, an undertaker, was jailed for four months for an offence of theft of a purse that contained about £200 in cash and credit cards. It seems that there was an early plea of guilty, so this equates to a sentence of six months imprisonment.

On the face of it, this seems like a harsh sentence? The twist is that Mr Lawler stole the purse from the body of a lady who had died and who he was collecting to take to the funeral home. That is, on anyone’s view, an extremely aggravating feature.

The Sentencing Guidelines for theft state that for an offence of this value, then the starting point for theft in breach of trust is a Community Order with the sentence ranging up to 26 weeks. For theft from the person, the starting point is 18 weeks custody, with a range up to 12 months. Both of these are after a trial.

So, the sentence is well above the starting point. But, many would agree that where the circumstances are someone who is a trusted professional stealing from the dead, such an increase is well deserved.

Whilst such a sentence would normally be reserved for someone with many, many previous convictions (here it is assumed that Mr Lawler had none) and/or for an offence that is close to a robbery, it is easy to see why a Judge felt that the only possible sentence is one of immediate custody. An appeal would have very little chance of success.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

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