Man escapes custody after breaching community order imposed for burglary…whilst on licence...

Man escapes custody after breaching community order imposed for burglary…whilst on licence for manslaughter

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On 20 August, a story appeared in the Daily Mail to the effect that “man walks free after fourth brush with the law” – putting aside the obvious irritation with the tabloid hyperbole around people “walking free” from court, what is the story about, and have the Mail got it right?

One, two, three, four…

Manslaughter

Craig Real (now 21) was convicted of manslaughter when he was aged 16. He received 5 years’ imprisonment for beating a homeless man to death with two others in 2009. The Mail state that ‘[t]he trio punched and kicked the helpless victim as he slept outside a Waitrose store in Westbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset, because he refused to give them his cigarettes.’ We don’t have any more details about the manslaughter case at the moment. He was released from that sentence. The Mail states that he was released early. Whilst this is true, it is potentially misleading. As many of you are no doubt aware, all determinate custodial sentences are subject to early release, which occurs at the half-way point, after which the prisoner is released on licence and subject to a number of conditions.

Breach of licence

It appears that he then breached his licence and was returned to prison. It isn’t clear what conditions were breached. It appears he remained in prison for the duration of the 5-year sentence. He was re-released earlier this year.

Burglary

He had been out of prison (not on licence, as the sentence had expired) for two months when he committed a burglary, stealing a TV from a summer house. He was arrested and brought to court. He was sentenced to a community order with a  programme requirement which required him to attend a ‘Thinking Skills Programme’. The judge of course had the power to send him to prison, but opted to give Real a chance.

Breach of community order

Just weeks after the community order was imposed, Real failed to attend a meeting with his probation officer. His probation office had the option of giving him a warning (those subject to community orders are allowed one warning within a period of 12 months) or “breaching” him and having him brought to court. He was “breached” and brought to court, no doubt due in part to his history of failing to comply with his licence. The judge had two options;

a) impose more onerous requirements, or

b) re-sentence him for the original offence.

The judge decided to add as the Mail states, “a month-long curfew from 8pm to 6am and ordered him to wear an electronic tag”. An electronic monitoring requirement, as it is known, for the period of just a month is somewhat unusual and we would have expected something a little longer. We of course do not know how long the community order was originally imposed for. 

The judge reportedly said he did not send Real to custody because this was a single breach. No doubt he was told that such a course is unlikely to be taken if there is a further breach.

Public outcry

Perhaps ‘outcry’ is too strong, but there was some discontent. The Mail stated:

“Local residents took to an online messaging board to express their outrage at the latest sentencing.

One wrote: ‘Disgusting. This toe rag gets yet another chance. Where’s the chance he gave his defenceless victim?”

I consider that to be an entirely separate matter – the offence of manslaughter was dealt with in 2010 and he has served his sentence for that. To my mind, taking a pragmatic approach, trying to encourage compliance with the community order and attempting to allow Real to get on with his life and contribute to society – rather than be a burden sat in a prison cell – is the best approach. No matter whether or we think he is wrong’un. He is only 21 after all.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Without knowing all the facts, the month long curfew for the breach seems pretty well judged in the circumstances to me (on top of the Thinking Skills programme, which he clearly needs!). We shouldn’t forget that a curfew is a real deprivation of liberty.

    I can still (just) remember being 21. Being forced to stay in every evening (and indeed all night) for 31 days at that age would have seemed an eternity. It would have been the equivalent of half a term at my university.

  2. You are being disingenuous again. You state The Mail misleads by saying he was released early, and in the very next sentence you say he in fact was…….released early !! But before this you say what the Mail said is true ??

    So lets all agree, it doesn’t matter what type of sentence he was given he WAS released early.

    He then went on to commit further crimes and hey presto we all have a leftie love in and say tagging him is real is a deprevation.

    Why not ask those residents what sentence they would like to pass on this piece of scum ?

  3. Gee, thanks, Captain S.

    So I (as the only commentator to date) am not only a ‘leftie’ (on what evidence?) but am also involved to boot in some sort of ‘love-in’ (with whom I might ask?) & this because I dared opine that the sentence imposed on Mr Real was in fact entirely consistent with the Sentencing Guidelines by which the Courts are supposed to ensure that the will of Parliament and the requirements of our law based system are met in a proportionate manner that properly reflects the nature of the offending behaviour in question.

    I suggest you go back and reread both the original post and my own comments, and you will see firstly that Lyndon was simply trying to show how even a factually accurate description has the potential to mislead (as is well-known not only to tabloid journalists but also to politicians, from whom they are often divided only by very thin partitions) , and that I was actually contradicting Lyndon by pointing out that a one month curfew seemed spot on in the circumstances for a first (and fundamentally minor) breach of his order.

    In fact, national guidance for Probation (in the days when there still was such a service) allow for the offender to self-certify for two absences, and it is very rare indeed to breach someone without first issuing a warning. A first prosecuted breach will very often be marked by as few as 10 hours additional unpaid work, for example, a much less onerous requirement than a month’s curfew (I maintain my view that tagging is a deprivation of liberty, or as you put it so eloquently reworded what I wrote: “tagging him is real is a deprevation.”).

    As regards Real’s early release, let me try to explain again. He was indeed released ‘early’, but – and this is the crucial point – no earlier than anyone else who had been sentenced to the same sentence would have been.

    This is what I at least understood Lyndon (in his invaluable rôle as one of the best blawgers in town, and with an unusual ability to explain the arcanae of the criminal justice system in language both you and I as non-lawyers can understand) to be attempting to get across. Sadly, there are none so deaf as those who don’t wish to hear, and not even Lyndon’s limpid prose appears to have succeeded in getting that point across to you, although I thought he made a great job of showing how putting a particular spin on what is in fact utterly standard can mean that it is perceived in a totally skewed fashion.

    I would very much like to see Parliament make the bold move of saying that courts should impose the term that an offender should actually serve, and make it quite clear under what circumstances they may end up serving longer. So an 8 month sentence should mean 8 months inside, not about 3 months. If that just convinces you even more that I am involved in some leftie love-in, so be it, but it would at least mean that when someone said that a prisoner had been released early, we’d all know exactly what that meant!

    And as for your advocacy of mob rule, events only just beyond the borders of Europe should surely suffice to show us just how dangerous that usually is.

    • Thanks for the comments. That was indeed exactly what I was trying to convey – and I think in fact your comments explains it better than the original post.

      As for ‘8 months meaning 8 months’, as I understand it there are two primary reasons why this cannot be so: 1) the overcrowded prison estate means we simply have no capacity to increase sentences (so an 8 month sentence, currently resulting in 4 in and 4 out, would have a significant impact on the size of the prison estate if it were to mean 8 months in), and in fact this was a primary reason for introducing the early release scheme at the half way point – it used to be two-thirds, and 2) dividing the sentence into a custodial portion and a licence portion means that there is some support and process of reintegration at the end of the custodial period, (theoretically) making for a better and more successful transition back into society and hopefully remaining on the right side of the thin blue line. I understand the appetite for such a change, however. Judges now routinely explain sentences, so, e.g. “the sentence I impose is one of 48 months’ imprisonment, that means you will serve 24 months in custody and 24 months on licence” – this should help the public understand a little better, however if the press don’t accurately report what is said (or understand what is said so as to reproduce it accurately) then the effect is limited.

    • @ Polruan

      Unfortunately you misread and misunderstand my comments and who was the intended recipient in some cases.

      Let me explain.

      My first point was that it is customary, nay obligatory, to have a snide remark aimed at the Mail on all left wing blogs or from commenators who are of a left wing persuasion. The original blog post did exactly this. Or do you disagree with this also ?

      Secondly it said the Mail “mislead” in its headline. But I just pointed out that factually it did no such thing. The offender was realised early, the fact that others would also have been released early under similar circumstances is not relevant. It may be “utterly standard” as you say, but it still does not affect the basic point of his early release. So can we agree that the Mail was correct and there was no need for any snide remark from the author ?

      I agree with you in that as a member of an increasingly disenfranchised public, a sentence should in fact be the full time served, so 5 years must mean 5 years. So maybe I misjugded you as we seem to agree here also.

      Thirdly, tagging is essentially a non-punishment. I know people who have been tagged and with a curfew in place and it has meant nothing to them. In one instance the offender could actually get the tag off and one other I know of totally ignored his curfew knowing that there were so few local police to chase him around he was virtually free to do as he wished. Hence my comment on tagging being a soft option.

      Fourth, you say I advocate mob rule. I dont think, and cant read, where I said that at any point. My point in fact was that this person is obviously a serious criminal and a nuisance to the local community, but despite the fact that he has breached his conditions previously and committed a further offence, he still gets to roam free. The question I posed is should the local community blighted by his presence have some say in this ? This of course opens up the whole arguement around the rights of criminals and those of law abiding citizens, which neither you or I will resolve.

      Based on the seriousness of his previous offence I would have assumed that any further offence would see chummy back behind bars pronto. However you do explain very well the leniency provided to criminals by our judicial system.

      Finally, my comment on lefties is based on what we see everyday all around us. The previous Labour government has created a nanny state where personal responsibility for your own actions has been disgarded. We see the rise of the politically correct brigade who have got themselves into positions of power and influence, not least of which is the judiciary. Everyone is now a “victim”, even the criminals and sentences reflect this it would seem.

      I realise that my view that criminals should be punished for their actions and that the public has a right to be protected from these people is an old fashioned view. It would seem that the law, or rather those who interpret the law, think it old fashioned also.

  4. Thanks, Lyndon.

    As regards the time to be served, it was I who lacked clarity. I wasn’t suggesting that offenders actually serve any longer than at present, but rather that they be sentenced to the period they will actually spend in custody, i.e. a person sentenced to 16 months at present should in future get an 8 month custodial sentence; and for certain categories of offenders, that could – but need not necessarily – be followed by an additional period on licence, for the very good reasons you set out above. That could be a bolt on to the custodial sentence per se.

    This would have several advantages, and would not increase the prison population at all.

    If implemented, it would make it more difficult for The Daily Hate Mail (amongst others) to misrepresent the nature of the sentences handed down by courts (despite the laudable efforts of the senior judiciary to explain what the terms actually mean in practice, considerable confusion reigns).

    It would mean that the increasingly scarce resources of the NPS (national probation service) could be concentrated on the supervision of those offenders who truly need supervision on release (both because of the risks they pose and in order to enable the appropriate support to be provided to assist reintegration and avoid relapse and reoffending).

    It could also bring huge cost and time savings (the growing lead times – often spent on remand in custody – in the listing of trials are a real blot on our justice system: “Justice delayed is justice denied”), because it would mean that thousands of additional trials a year could be held in the magistrates’ courts as opposed to the Crown Court, because the lower courts could retain jurisdiction, knowing that their sentencing powers were more than sufficient. In other words, the current limit of 6 months per offence (or 12 months in total for two or more unrelated offences) would effectively be doubled. It would not, of course, remove the right to elect trial by jury for either way offences.

    • I think it is an interesting proposal. I foresee a couple of problems however. As it maintains the status quo, there would be little appetite to legislate “for no purpose” (bear in the mind the additional cost of re-training sentencers, reproducing all the guidelines, transitional cases etc.) and further, the current situation gives the government the opportunity to criticise judges and then increase maximum sentences or create minimum sentences as a response, to satisfy the angry masses.

      Secondly what would happen about licence recall? Currently, someone who has been released who breaches their licence can be recalled to serve the remainder of their sentence. There would need to be a provision to deal with that (very common) eventuality.

      Whilst I can see your argument, I think there are a number of policy reasons why things should remain as they are. Perhaps the easier (better?) option would be to address the misrepresentation of the law committed on an almost daily basis by the press.

    • @ Polruan

      And here was I giving you the benefit of the doubt as regards being a leftie, and you make the comment about “The Daily Hate Mail”. I should have known better really. Of course the Indy, Mirror and ‘Gruniad’ are the bastions of truth and honesty and dont in any way spin for the left eh ?

  5. Indeed, which is why I said that “for certain categories of offenders, that could – but need not necessarily – be followed by an additional period on licence, for the very good reasons you set out above. That could be a bolt on to the custodial sentence per se.”

    In other words, not everyone needs to be on licence post-release. But those that do should be put on licence as an additional judicial decision at time of sentence. There could be a number of automatic categories, lifers for example, or anyone sentenced to more than XX years, but I am (along with the European Court) wary of ‘blanket’ requirements.

    Such targeted licensing of offenders would enable the NPS to ensure that it used its limited resources to best effect. It may prevent a number of offenders deemed at low risk being returned automatically to custody, but I also, for much the same reason, happen to think that may be no bad thing either.

    • Yes, sorry, I had glossed over that. My issue with asking a judge to determine whether or not an offender should be subject to a period of licence (do they also get to decide how long?) is that you are asking a judge to make an assessment of the risk posed many years in advance. I appreciate that the position is the same with some types of life sentence, however that doesn’t mean it should be more widely replicated.

      I like the idea, I’m just not convinced there isn’t a pitfall somewhere in there! If you wanted to write it up (briefly) we would be happy to publish it as a guest post and see what Joe Public thinks!

      • Is not current behaviour, or rather a consistent pattern of behaviour, an indicator of future risk ? In this case after commiting one horrendous crime and serving a prison sentence he goes on to commit further crimes. I think there is a reasonable expectation that the pattern will continue and a judge would see this.

        • Might as well chop his fingers off now then, eh?

          As for the Mail being misleading, my point was exactly as Polruan explained – it was factually correct (which I said in the blog post), it has the potential to mislead (which I said in the blog post) as it is presented without the highly relevant fact that early release is standard. Without that information, some readers may be under the impression it was as a reward for good behaviour, which it was not.

          And as for being snide, I think I was rather restrained really, given the some of the drivel that passes for journalism on the Mail website. I thought the point was important to make and I’d like to think some readers are now better informed as to the law – yourself included.

          Thanks for reading.

          • I have studied law by the way as part of my first degree, but I’m expressing an opinion as a member of the public. Anyway you Mathematicians should be quite precise on facts and logic I thought ?

            Now you show your true colours. Your hatred of a newspaper which actually got its facts correct is hilarious. So what of the Mirror, Indy, Gruniad….no comment…..oh OK.

            When I first started to study law my tutor said I must put common sense aside as I was now dealing with the law. I now, 30 years later, fully understand why he said this.

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