Life sentence for murder of Elizabeth Thomas

Life sentence for murder of Elizabeth Thomas

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Introduction

In January 2014 Steven Miles, then aged 16, stabbed and dismembered his girlfriend, Elizabeth Thomas. He later pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced on 2nd October 2014 to the mandatory life sentence, but with a tariff – the minimum period of time that has to be served before he can be considered for release, of 25 years.

In fact, he wasn’t sentenced to life imprisonment at all – hopefully. Someone aged under 21 cannot be sent to prison, but youth detention. In this case, the sentence would/should have been one of detention at HM’s pleasure, but we know what the BBC meant…

 

Facts

The facts are scant, and the news reports leave more questions than answers. We are told that Steven “had been diagnosed as having an autistic syndrome, told his family that a voice in his head named Ed told him to kill someone.

He used tools from his father’s tree surgeon business to cut up his girlfriend’s body before wrapping her dismembered limbs and placing them in bin bags.

When Miles’ sister returned to the family’s flat about an hour after the murder, he told her “Ed made me do something bad.”

The court was told Miles had a fascination with horror movies and had wanted to copy the actions of Dexter, the main character in an American TV series about a police forensics officer who is also a serial killer“.

 

Comment

The only sentence available was life, the question was the length of the tariff. The Judge stated, which is clear, that “This is a case of the utmost gravity, the horrific features of which are rarely heard in any court.

Because of Steven’s age (under 18), the starting point was 12 years, as set out in Sch.21 to the CJA 2003. That’s a significant point to remember when assessing the sentence. It is quite clear that the crime was a brutal one that merited an increase in the starting point and, quite possibly, a substantial increase.

However, given that he pleaded guilty, a minimum term of 25 years would indicate a starting point of 30 years. This is more in line with what would be expected for an adult who carried out the same crime (even then, it would appear to be too long).

The sentence passed equates to an increase of 2½ times the starting point. That would seem to be significantly too long. On the face of what is set out above (and before taking into account any mitigation), we would expect a tariff of about 16-18 years after the plea of guilty as being the top of the range sentence given the plea.

It may be, of course, that there are matters that we don’t know about. Hopefully the full sentencing remarks will be published so that we can assess the sentence better. In the absence of some other feature, we would expect an appeal, and expect it to be successful.

 

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

10 COMMENTS

  1. “This is a case of the utmost gravity, the horrific features of which are rarely heard in any court.”

    He presumably stabbed his victim to death, perhaps with only a single thrust of the blade for all we know. Is that an exceptionally rare and cruel method of homicide that amounts to even a single “horrific feature” that is “rarely heard in any court”?

    He pleaded guilty to murder. He was only sixteen. He didn’t try to plead diminished responsibility manslaughter, or not guilty by reason of insanity.

    Few are they who find themselves able to like murderers. Many are they who dislike those who hear voices, even when they are utterly harmless.

    Chopping up the dead body of his late girlfriend was horrific, but it didn’t make murdering her in the first place any worse a crime than it was already.

    The 25 year tariff does not determine how long he will serve before being granted parole, it merely determines the *minimum* he will serve, before he can even be *assessed* for eligibility for parole.

    I cannot see why he needs to be locked up for 25 years just to reflect society’s disapproval of the murder itself, whereupon the purpose of locking him up any longer becomes confined to public safety, rehabilitation of the offender and the deterrence of others tempted (by voices they heard and warped, fantastic ambitions) to stab their girlfriends or boyfriends. It strikes me that if he’d killed his victim by stabbing her, then, much later, whilst on bail awaiting trial for *that*, chopped up her dead body, and then been charged separately with interfering with a corpse, then he would have been assessed for eligibility for parole a decade or so earlier than he will be, as things now stand.

    This said, there is a distinct possibility that this offender is so abnormal mentally, and will remain so until he dies, that nobody is ever likely to want to take the risk of granting him parole, so that he has to die in prison. But we’ll surely have a better idea than we have today, of whether or not that is the case, far sooner than 25 years hence.

    He should appeal that tariff. I’d like to think I’d be saying that even if one of my daughters had been the victim, or if I’d been the police officer with the messy task of putting back together the three dimensional jigsaw puzzle that he’d created from his victim’s remains, and was still having nightmares because of it.

    My sympathies lie mainly with the victim and her family. But I read far more upsetting tales of murder than this one, and I do have some sympathy for the offender in this case.

    • Sympathy with the offender???

      This guy should never be allowed out of jail – I assume that the judge agrees but that 25 years was as far as he dared go. If the sentencing guidelines do not permit a longer sentence then the guidelines need to be changed for cold blooded “psychopathic” killers who kill for pleasure.

      It is rather frightening to think that he could be walking the streets as a free man aged only 42.

      • @ Patrick Hadley

        If you think that NO murderer should EVER be let out of jail, or (for that matter) that ALL murderers should be HANGED, ALWAYS, then either is a hard line point of view I could respect. However, if neither of these is your position on the appropriate sentencing of murderers, some more severely than others, then I am at a loss to know what it is about THIS murder that you find more shocking than any average murder where the intent is unequivocally to kill the victim, not merely to cause him or her grievous bodily harm.

        The judge felt as you do. It is not clear, from what we know, WHY the judge felt as he did, and as you do. That isn’t clear to Dan Bunting (who expects an appeal against tariff to succeed), and nor is it clear to me. I think you ought to explain, if this is what you think, what was so much worse about this murder than other murders.

        • I assume that Dan Bunting has correctly described the way that sentencing guidelines are to be applied, and that he is right that the judge may have gone well beyond the guidelines, and that Steven Miles may well win his appeal against the length of his minimum tariff. If that is true then it seems to me that the guidelines are wrong.

          I certainly do not believe in capital punishment in any circumstances, or that normally “life should mean life”, but I do believe that a life sentence is appropriate for all murder, and that it is right that a minimum tariff should be set, which in some cases is relatively short. Generally speaking it seems to me that tariffs for murder are now around what I would believe to be the right length.

          The reason why Steven Miles should never be realised is, to me, pretty obvious. He is a someone who killed for no other motive than the pleasure of killing. From the report in the Guardian:
          The judge, Christopher Critchlow, told Miles: “This is a case of the utmost gravity, the horrific features of which are rarely heard in any court. Nothing this court can say or do, no sentence this court can impose can alleviate the pain suffered by Elizabeth Thomas’s family for a death in such a terrible manner. There must be a life sentence.”

          At the start of the hearing, the judge warned the court that the case involved details that were “extremely unpleasant and may cause considerable distress to anyone listening”, and he advised anyone of a nervous disposition to leave.

          He said the killing was predetermined and he would have given a whole life term if the defendant had been an adult but, as Miles was a child, he was not allowed to pass that sentence. Critchlow said eminent psychiatrists had agreed that Miles was not schizophrenic and therefore did not have a defence of diminished responsibility.

          It will clearly never be safe for Steven Miles to be out in public again, but does a 25 year tariff mean that, provided he has followed the rules inside, the prison service will have to start preparing him for his parole applications when he is still a relatively young man, including moving him to an open prison? That would be absurd.

          • @ Patrick Hadley

            Thanking you for amplifying your conclusion. Would you mind please publishing the detailed facts upon which your opinion is based, for the benefit of those of us who do not yet know those detailed facts?

            The definition of “diminished responsibility” does not refer to schizophrenia. I hope it never does.

  2. “This is a case of the utmost gravity, the horrific features of which are rarely heard in any court” was the view of the judge… I’m minded to believe him and don’t need anything more grapic to convince me he’s telling the truth. I have no shred of sympathy for the murderer who extinguished Elizabeth Thomas’ life like she was of no consequence. I’m grateful that at least this psycho has been locked up for a quarter of century to protect the rest of us.

    • @ LES

      I can understand perfectly well why people *feel* that way. I do myself, to some extent, on and off. It is why people *think* that way, that has me still sceptical as to whether yours and Patrick’s way of *feeling* about the sentence is the only right way to feel.

  3. An important aspect of sentencing and review of release during sentence is consideration of the likelihood of reoffending. I can appreciate the point that once someone is dead, further mutilation of the body does not hurt them further, but for someone to do it does say something very serious about the overall mental state of the murderer.
    The fact that anyone is prepared to deliberately kill another person maybe indicates that they will always be liable to reoffend, but that likelihood looks greater when the manner of the overall incident points towards a serious psychopathic condition.
    I would not like to be the person who reviews him for release one day.

  4. @ John Allman

    You said “ALL murderers should be HANGED, ALWAYS, then either is a hard line point of view I could respect”

    Well I’ll say it if nobody else will. Yes all murders should be hanged, or any other method of capital punishment would suffice.

    Quite frankly your pathetic moralising over this clearly dangerous individual is pitiful. I dont care if he was 16 or 66, it was clearly, in the eyes of the judge, a shocking case. Perhaps the judge had one eye on the Human Rights industry who I’m sure would be itching to get involved had the judge imposed a whole life tarrif.

  5. >> We are told that Steven “had been diagnosed as having an autistic syndrome, told his family that a voice in his head named Ed told him to kill someone.”

    John, given this, are you surprised he didn’t raise a defence of diminished responsibility?

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