Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22 were convicted of the murder of Lee Rigby last year. Sentence was adjourned to allow for the Court of Appeal to give their judgment on whether whole life tariffs were lawful (spoiler – they are).
Prediction should generally only be undertaken with the benefit of hindsight. Earlier today (26th February 2014 – the day of the sentence) I tweeted :
Two more whole life tariffs coming your way today at the Bailey?
— Dan Bunting (@danbunting) February 26, 2014
Was I right?
Well, in fairness to myself, that did include a question mark. Sweeney J sentencing remarks have been published and are well worth a read (I don’t know if it’s the type of cases he deals with, or something else, but he is particularly good at getting these out).
The mandatory sentence is life imprisonment, the real question was the tariff. Sweeney J passed the following:
- Michael Adebolajo – whole life
- Michael Adebowale – 45 years
This was a ‘terrorist’ murder, and one committed for “the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause“. This is clearly correct and the Judge took a whole life tariff as a starting point. In relation to Mr Adebolajo, there was no reason to move away from that and so a whole life tariff was imposed. With Mr Adebowale, the Judge said that “the combination of your lesser role, your age and your pre-existing and continuing mental condition mean that it is not appropriate in your case to impose a whole life term“.
Nonetheless an extremely long tariff was required. Mr Adebowale will not be eligible for release until he is 67. In reality, it will be a lot longer before he is out.
Given that whole life tariffs are lawful, it is not surprising that Mr Adebolajo received one. He is currently trying to appeal his conviction and will certainly add an appeal against sentence (he has literally nothing to lose). In the current political climate I doubt that he will get too far.
One aspect of whole life tariffs that hasn’t featured much in our look at the area is the point that someone on a whole life tariff has no incentive to behave in prison. Hopefully Mr Adebolajo will not put that to the test.
As for Mr Adebowale? The Judge heard the trial and is the best position to judge his culpability in my view and it is hard to say that he got it wrong. However, this sentence seems more of a candidate for an Attorney-General’s Reference than Mr McGloughlin as at least Mr Adebowale has a chance of getting out of prison alive. It is hard to say that the sentence is unduly lenient, but then neither was Mr McGloughlin, so we will see.
It may well be that the whole life tariff for Mr Adebolajo will take any public ‘heat’ off the other sentence and this will be left as is. It is (again in my view) a typically clear and well-written sentencing remarks from this Judg.