On 5 May 2016, BBC news covered the sentencing of Wendy Willson, aged 62, following a late plea of guilty to an offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The facts can be shortly stated. Willson reported to the police that she had been raped in her home by two men with eastern European accents. She claimed the attack was violent, with the men using a weapon to knock her unconscious before raping her. Having initially stated that nothing was stolen during the attack, it later transpired that she had attempted to make an insurance claim for £6,000 in respect of property stolen during the alleged attack.
Conviction and sentence
She was charged with fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice. She pleaded guilty shortly before her trial.
She was given 5 months for perverting the course of justice and an additional month for fraud. It is unclear what the reduction for her guilty plea was.
A couple of points of interest:
- Although the purpose of the perverting offence was seemingly to enable a fraudulent insurance claim, the real gravamen of the offence is the false complaint. As such, although the fraud guidelines might have been useful to consider, we would suggest that the case law surrounding perverting the course of justice offences is more useful.
- The structure of the sentence (5+1) is really irrelevant. It is the total that matters. With an approximate reduction of 10% for the guilty plea, a starting point of around 7 months seems towards the bottom end for an offence of this nature.
- The perhaps slightly low sentence can be explained by the absence of aggravating factors such as an arrest was made/suspicion was thrown onto an innocent person (it appears that nothing came of the complaint) and the fact that the fraudulent insurance claim failed (and in that way it was an incomplete offence)
- Willson’s age will have been relevant; although 62 is not “old”, prison will no doubt be harder upon her than for a woman in her 20s for example.
- With those additional factors taken into account, it would appear that this sentence is within the appropriate range. 12 months plus seems to be the going rate for offences with the additional aggravating factors outlined above.
- This raises the question of whether the system should require non-violent and non-dangerous offences/offenders to be sent to custody. Although this is a serious offence, is incarceration necessary?