Even as murders go, this were disturbing and senseless. In 2014 James Fairweather, then aged just 15, stabbed two people to death – James Attfield in March and Nahid Almanea in June.
He was convicted of murder last week and on 29th April 2016 was sentenced to life – (detention rather than imprisonment because of his age) with a tariff of 27 years.
James was autistic but, as the Judge commented, many people are without being violent. More than that however, he suffered from an “emerging psychopathic personality disorder“. He was obsessed with serial killers and had violent sadistic fantasies of killing.
The Sentencing Remarks have been published which are, as always, extremely helpful.
The first murder occurred overnight on 28th and 29th March 2014. Mr Attfield was asleep in the park having drunk a fair amount of alcohol when James attacked him.
He stabbed Mr Attfield 102 times, including (which is what he did to the second victim as well) stabbing him in the eyes. Mr Attfield was left for dead, dying later that morning.
James then went and cleaned up and disposed of the knife and his clothes.
The next attack was on 17th June 2014. Ms Almanea was a student walking home when she was attacked, again with a knife. And again she was stabbed to death in a brutal manner.
James was only arrested in 2015 when a woman was disturbed by his behaviour in a park and called the police. He was found with a lock-knife (for which he was charged and pleaded guilty). When he was being interviewed for this, he made admissions to the two murders.
He claimed to have been suffering psychotic delusions at the time – admitting manslaughter, but denying murder. The jury disbelieved that and convicted him.
The only sentence available was detention for life, but the real question was the ‘tariff’ – the minimum amount of time that would have to be served before he could be considered for release.
We have a fact sheet that covers this. As James was under 18, the starting point was 12 years. It is clear that on any view there were numerous aggravating features that would take the case higher than this.
The Judge commented that had he been an adult, he would have been close to a whole life sentence, but it was not quite in that category. The starting point would have been 30 years, but the actual tariff higher than that.
Looking at it in the round, the Judge said that he would have imposed a tariff of 16 years for each murder. Putting those tougher, than allowing for totality and the lock-knife, he set it at 27 years.
This was an absolutely horrific pair of murders, committed by someone who, unless there is a radical change, may well be so dangerous that he is never released.
But of course there is a difference between the tariff – the punitive element, and the need to protect the public, which is covered by the life sentence.
Here the tariff may be the longest ever imposed on a youth, and is almost certainly the longest imposed of someone aged 15. For that reason alone we suspect there would be an appeal.
As to whether it will succeed, the Judge was in unchartered territory with this case, but we do think that the tariff was longer that we would have expected we would have thought that a tariff more towards the low twenties would have been the longest that could have been imposed. For that reason, we would not be surprised if an appeal succeeded to a small extent.
One curious comment made by the Judge at para 35 (when talking about the fact that he was not just under 18, but significantly younger than that – “However, it can fairly be said that your age is in the lower end of the range between 14 and 18 years, 14 being the generally accepted age of criminal responsibility. ”
It is not quite clear what the Judge meant by this – the age of criminal responsibility is 10, even though the CPS are supposed to exercise caution when prosecuting youths, particularly ones close to the age of 10, due to their youth.
It should be remembered again that the actual tariff may well be academic, as James appears to be an extremely dangerous young man who may never be released.