On 23rd February 2014 John Lowe (aged 82) shot his partner, Christine Lee, in the chest at close range. She probably died almost instantly. Her daughter, Lucy Lee, called the police, but in attempt to save her mother went back into the house and was shot two times by Mr Lowe and also died. He then shot his four dogs, later saying to the police ““I am sorry I put the dogs down but I couldn’t leave them to anyone else to look after.”
In relation to his two victims, he had a “”love-hate relationship” with the women and felt they were trying to control his affairs“. He told the police that “They had to be put down, there was nothing else I could do.” Later, he said “I have had terrible problems with Christine. They wouldn’t let me eat” and “I am not sorry. I am out of the problem. They are causing me problems every day.”
At the trial, he accepted killing Christine and Lucy, but maintained it was an accident. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jury did not agree and found him guilty of both murders on 29th October 2014. His tariff was set at 25 years.
The only sentence was life imprisonment, the question for the Judge (Mr Justice Singh – a very good Judge) was how long the tariff should be. Fortunately, the sentencing remarks have been published and so we have a good idea of how the Judge’s mind was working.
After setting out the facts, the Judge turned to the aggravating and mitigating features, identifying the starting point as 30 years on the basis both that it was a murder with a firearm, and that it was the murder of two people.
The Judge stated that the fact that he had re-loaded when killing Lucy and followed her out of the house was an aggravating feature. There were the following mitigating features :
(b) lack of pre-meditation;
(d) the fact that the offender was provoked (for example by prolonged stress); and
(g) the age of the offender.
This is all fairly straightforward, apart from the question of the age of Mr Lowe. At 82, it is likely that he will die in prison, unless there was a very short minimum term, especially when remembering that most people serve longer than the tariff.
The Judge set out the legal position (quoting from another case) at para 18 “...clearly age is a mitigating factor. It is a statutory mitigating factor, as is apparent from schedule 21 paragraph 11(g) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Advanced age will be relevant in a sentencing exercise such as the one facing [the Judge]. The schedule establishes that, as does Troughton and the other cases cited in Troughton. Neither Troughton nor any other case, nor the schedule, suggests that a court has to do what it can to ensure that a defendant does not die in prison. If nothing else, no court would be in a position to conduct the necessary actuarial exercise. Even if it were, it would not override the requirement of the sentencer to reflect the circumstances of the killing in setting the minimum term. If those circumstances require a minimum which may result in the offender dying in prison, then that will be the minimum term.”
And, at para 19, Singh J said “In my view the gravity of the offences committed by you in this case needs to be properly reflected in the minimum term imposed while taking into account your old age.”
What is disappointing is that the Judge didn’t then say quite how he got to 25 years. I imagine that there was a small increase from 30 years to reflect the seriousness of the offence, before reducing it to take account of the other features set out above. I imagine there was some (small) reduction for his age.
How is this not a whole life tariff?
The minimum age Mr Lowe would be before he could be released is 107. Clearly at that point, it is overwhelmingly likely that he will have died. If not, then he is not going to be a threat to anyone.
It is a difficult question of what allowance should be made for Mr Lowe’s age. It seems to me that the Court of Appeal should be making a further reduction in cases such as this, but it is a difficult issue. It does feel here that once the starting point of 30 years was chosen, the exact term was fairly academic as Mr Lowe will die in prison.