Like many people nowadays Jason Lawrence, a 50 year from Hampshire, turned to internet dating – match.com (other dating websites are available). Unlike most, Mr Lawrence’s aim was not to find a life partner – he was a sexual predator and targeted ‘lonely and vulnerable’ women, many who were divorced or widowed.
He was accused of raping 5 different women, and assaulting two others, over a three and a half year period from June 2011. He was convicted of these offences, and on 3rd March 2016 was sentence to life imprisonment.
The women that he had targeted were spread out over England. It seems that in all cases, he arranged to meet the women and raped them on the first or second time that they met.
Despite the fact that Mr Lawrence married somebody that he met on match.com during this period, this did not stop his attacks – two of the rapes were committed within a few months of the wedding.
Mr Lawrence accepted having sex with all the victims, but denied rape, saying that it was consensual. A defence that the jury rejected.
The Life Sentence
Unusually (for someone convicted of an offences other than murder), Mr Lawrence received a life sentence (see here for our fact sheet on discretionary life sentences and here for our look at life sentences post-LASPO).
The Judge said “Given the chance you will rape again. I do not know when it may be safe to release you into the community.” A life sentence can be imposed for rape if “the defendant poses a significant risk of serious harm to the public, and that the seriousness of the offence justifies such a sentence“.
On the face of it, this was not a case that called out for a life sentence. Although it was serious, there does not appear to be a background that would compel the feeling that is dangerous (at least in the legal sense).
The tariff – the length of time that must be served before Mr Lawrence can be released, was set at 12½ years. This is equivalent to a determinate sentence of 25 years.
Further, the consequence of a conviction is that he is on the Sexual Offenders Register and, more significantly, could be subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order. This would allow the police to, for example, monitor his internet use and ban him from internet dating.
In addition, if the sentence of 25 years was appropriate (see below) then he will be on licence until the end of that period. He is now aged 50, which means he will be supervised until he is 75. It is likely that by that time, when couple with a RSHO, he will not really present such a risk.
If the Judge was concerned, he could have imposed an Extended Sentence, which would provide for a longer period of time on licence.
A life sentence should not be imposed purely as a punitive measure – it is for the protection of the public. It is likely that there will be an appeal against that part of the sentence (subject to the usual caveat about there being factors that we are not aware of).
If we look at the Sentencing Guidelines (see page 10), we see that this is a case that is probably outside the range as it could be considered a ‘campaign of rape’, which may attract a sentence of up to 20 years, and sometimes more.
On the face of it, the individual rapes would probably be Category 3A offences (Culpability A because of the planning) at most. They would probably attract sentences of about 5-6 years (it is difficult as there are not many exact details of the offences).
You don’t just add the different sentences together though; account must be taken of totality. Here, the sentence is significantly above what we would have expected (more in the range of 15-18 years, or at the most up to about 20/21 – even if it is properly categorised as a ‘campaign’ you should not use the aggravating features that make it a campaign, to increase its seriousness within that bracket).
For that reason, we would expect an appeal against the sentence imposed. It may be of course that there are extra details that we are unaware of.