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…
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.
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.
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.