James Fairweather – youth gets life sentence for double murder

    James Fairweather – youth gets life sentence for double murder

    Photo from the BBC


    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.

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


    1. Maybe the judge was alluding to the fact that the “generally accepted” age of criminal responsibility is somewhere around 14 in many (most?) other EU countries and that this is, by anyone’s standards, a more reasonable age to set it. I’m fairly sure we have the youngest age in Europe. It’s bound to be raised eventually – 10 is completely ridiculous.

    2. Perhaps the judge was referring to the different way children (10-13) and young people (14-17) are treated by the criminal justice system. That said the distinction has no effect on the age of criminal responsibility which remains 10 years in all cases. Is a rather odd comment, especially in light of the seriousness of the case.

    3. Savage, shocking and brutal violence. These people can never be “cured” as such. The best hoped for is modified behaviour via psychiatric treatment I guess. At some point no doubt the liberal progressives and offender charities will be campaigning for his release because of his age, but for me its a sad day when we gave up the death penalty. There are some people who are so twisted and violent that they forfeit any claims to be a member of society and their actions make them irredeemable.

    4. @Andrew – The answer is emphatically YES

      And your answer would be ?

      The violence inflicted on his innocent victims was shocking and went way beyond ‘just’ killing.

    5. Captain, I have been implacably opposed to the rope for any offence for any offender since I was old enough to form a view on any question; and I think that answers your question.

    6. I’ve never understood how death penalty advocates can so vehemently denounce the violence carried out by the criminal, while simultaneously urging further violence as a solution. Killing is killing, whether it’s done by the state or by an individual. If it’s not done in defence, how is it any different than murder?

      • Caroline
        The answer is that when the death penalty was abolished ( please read the story of how this was done, very interesting) the do-gooders promised that life would mean life. But does it really ? In the vast majority of murder cases the answer is no. So why should the criminal serve an average of around 15 years and then walk out of prison and the victim….well of course they are not going to rise from the dead to enjoy their life again are they ?

        Around 10 years ago my cousins husband was walking to the shops in broad daylight. He was accosted by a drug addict attempting to rob him, punched to the ground and hit his head on the curb. He was pronounced brain dead the following day and the decision was made to switch off life support. In court the defence made the case for what a really nice man the drug addict was and how he didn’t really mean it. The verdict was manslaughter and a 3 years sentence from a senile judge. He left a wife and three children.

        Caroline is that justice ? Now its your turn to answer the question.

        • On the first point, it’s a common misconception (propagated by the Daily Mail and its ilk) that life would mean life. It was never the case. In fact, the Parliamentarians that abolished the death penalty would be horrified at the length of the tariffs being handed out nowadays.

          I’ve written this up before here – please do read it.

    7. @ Dan
      This has nothing to do with the Daily Mail and you do yourself no favours by resorting to this type of throw away comment. You are correct that if you read official reports and Hansard, you will find very supportive comments from politicians of all hues around the abolition of the death penalty leading up to, and during the debate. My comment came from reading an article some years ago (sadly I cant find it now) which told the “untold” story of the events. From memory there was a great deal of politics and misleading information being given to those who were wavering on which way to vote. According to the article many were being assured that life would mean life and to trust those proposing abolition. There was even some sneaky clauses put in to the bill also which made it difficult for the pro-death penalty supporters. The article was written many years ago and drew on comments and experiences from some of those involved. Shame I cant find it as I’m sure it would have given you a different perspective – or maybe not.
      I do note however, that all of the comments in your piece on the abolition came from those who seemed to care more for the criminal rather than the victim. Does it not concern you that in all the pontificating around the death sentence at the time and since, nothing is ever said about the victim, their families and their rights to life ? Of course I appreciate that doesn’t fit with the lefts world view that criminals are the real victims.

      • It may give me a different perspective but, as you say, I doubt it. The reason is that the historical record is clear – what was said in Parliament, which is open for everyone to read, is also clear. Everyone knew full well what was going to happen when they abolished the Death Penalty. I do object to the historical revisionism that has gone on since then.

        As to the death penalty itself, again I don’t think it’s right to say that nothing is ever said about the victim. I’m against the death penalty for a variety of reasons, but I understand why some people want it. In some ways it is more coherent intellectually than whole life prison sentences (leaving aside Alaska, Texas was the last US state to allow life without parole).

        I’ve never met anyone who genuinely believes that criminals as a class are the real victims.

    8. @ Dan
      Yes as I said the official version is there for people to read and to see what was said and by whom. My point was that the article I read – back when the death sentence was being debated again many years ago – told the unofficial story directly from those involved in it. If you were there around the time of abolition and involved in the debate then I bow to your superior knowledge. However, if you were not, then I take the recollections of those involved as more of an historical record of the behind the scenes discussions i.e. the politics. If you are stating that these people are revisionist its a bit disingenuous don’t you think ?

      • Not at all. The point is that the record of the discussions between all the MPs, who were the ones that voted on the matter, is there for all to see. It is quite clear that nobody thought that ‘life would mean life’. I’m sure people were talking behind the scenes, but if an MP actually voted on the issue thinking that life would mean life knowing that it was the opposite of what everyone was saying then they are pretty silly.

        I don’t mind when people argue for whole life tariffs, although I disagree with it. I do object to this idea that anyone who voted to abolish the death penalty was in any way duped of misled, as it’s clearly not true!

        • You continue to be deliberately obtuse, so its pointless really. For the last time, the article I read – probably 30 years ago- was about what was said in the tea rooms and bars of Parliament particularly to the “undecided” and it was based on interviews of those involved at the time. If you want to consider them misguided, foolish, irrelevant, revisionist or even outright liars then that’s fine, its your opinion. I can only state what I read.

          As regards whole life tariffs. There are people who are so violent and commit such savage attacks on their victims, or who repeat their offence, they should never be let out. You can argue the case about punishment, rehabilitation etc, but I’d argue the case based on public safety. There are numerous cases where murders and serious sex offenders have repeated their crime. So your answer is to keep letting them out ? Bizarre logic.

          The young man in this blog committed not just murder here but utter savagery on perfectly innocent people, so in my book he’s a prime candidate. I believe one of his victims was a Saudi student. Just imagine what sentence he would have got there.

          • I don’t think even Saudi Arabia, which like Texas is technologically advanced but socially in the Stone Age (which is where it will go back to when the oil runs out) would execute a boy of fifteen.

            • Oh lord yet more of your left wing prejudice. Let me ask you a question. Have you lived in Saudi Arabia or do you know any Saudi’s ?
              I’ll give you a heads up before you answer, I have lived there and know many Saudi’s. You see the extremes reported by the BBC and the Graun but not everyday life, or the good people that the vast majority are.

      • When I hear allegations about things said – by word of mouth – by people now dead to people now dead my reaction is “Where is this coming from?”. It’s so easy to make such allegations, such fun to believe them, so hard to disprove them.

        Not one Member of either House has ever said publicly “I only voted for abolition because X or Y or Z (being a Minister) told me in secret that whatever was said in the House life would mean life and it has not been so” – and if they had been duped it would have become obvious as soon as anyone sentenced to life after abolition was released.

        • Did you actually read what I wrote or is this just another of your liberal progressive left prejudice’s based on your moral superiority complex. Of course we bow to you, and those involved on which the article was based are clearly fantasists and their words to be treated as such. How silly of us to believe them.

          • Captain: of course I read what you said.

            Every Member of both Houses would know that penal policy is not changed by whispers in the Tea Room – if only because they are unprovable and unenforceable.

            I expect your local Probation people could recommend someone who could help you with your anger management issues.

            • Are you seriously saying politicians don’t play politics or deals are done or minds changed via discussions outside of the chamber ? If you are then you have a very sheltered life. You and Dan seem unable to accept that there is a difference between unofficial and official, moreover you seem to think politicians don’t play politics with and against each other. Also you seem to question the whole premise of this article, despite it using interviews with those involved at the time. I don’t know about my anger issues, but I certainly know that you and Dan could use a dose of humility. Your refusal to accept first hand accounts from those involved in events leading up to abolition is incredible. I only wish I could have used you and Dan as examples in my Masters when dealing with Epistemology and Ontology as you seem to have a strange view of truth, knowledge and reality.