On 25 June 2013, Rebecca Shuttleworth was sentenced for murder and cruelty to a child. Her partner, Luke Southerton, was sentenced for one count of cruelty to a child. Both were convicted after a trial.
The victim was Keanu, Shuttleworth’s 2 year old son. His body was found with 37 injury marks.
This paragraph of the sentencing remarks neatly sums up the facts in relation to Shuttleworth:
He was a defenceless child, and it was your duty to protect him. Instead you beat him so severely that he died a lingering death from his injuries a day or so later. The jury have also convicted you of offences of cruelty to Keanu by assaulting him on several occasions in the months leading up to his death, resulting in significant injuries, count 4, and by ill-treating and neglecting Keanu throughout his short life, count 5. The jury found each and every one of the multiple allegations in those counts proved. You have been convicted of cruelty in neglecting Keanu in the last hours of his life by failing to summon the medical aid he so badly needed. Finally and quite separately you have been convicted of cruelty towards [another child*] in 2005 by deliberately burning her hand and wrist.
The sentence for murder is of course mandatory life imprisonment. The Judge must then determine the minimum term which must be served. An overview of how murderers are sentenced is here.
Before that can be assessed, the judge must determine – and set out – the factual basis on which the conviction is based. This must be faithful to the jury’s verdict, that is, it cannot be inconsistent with it. For example, if the prosecution put their case on the basis that Mr Smith committed ABH by hitting Mr Jones with his fist, the Judge cannot sentence Mr Smith on the basis that he hit Mr Jones with a knuckleduster.
- There were signs of ill-treatment and neglect from early on in Keanu’s life.
- Keanu had numerous injuries including bruises, burns and swelling, on his head, back and feet.
- Keanu’s foot had been held against a radiator and a substantial head wound had been inflicted, possibly with a weapon.
- Shuttleworth was alone responsible for Keanu’s death.
- There were many separate blows.
- There was no intention to kill.
- The fatal injury to Keanu’s abdomen was likened to the force in a road traffic collision, and must have been inflicted with heavy punches, stamps or kicks.
- The depth of bruising suggested that Keanu must have been slammed against a wall or floor.
- He was badly in need of medical attention and that would have been obvious.
- Medical attention was not sought.
- She had a poor start in life, with a disrupted childhood spent in and out of care.
- She lost her mother and grandmother within a matter of weeks aged just 18.
- She was in an abusive relationship at the age of 16 and gave birth to twins.
- She was aged just 22 at the time.
The starting point was 15 years, as there were no other factors which elevated it to the higher categories.
The offence was aggravated by the fact that Keanu was vulnerable because of his age. Indeed the judge said that ‘He was a defenceless child, and it was your duty to protect him.’
There was mental and physical suffering inflicted upon him prior to his death. There was also the grossest abuse of trust – Shuttleworth was his mother and had a duty to protect him. The judge also noted that the fact that the violence inflicted during the fatal weekend was not the first time Shuttleworth had been violent towards Keanu – that too was an aggravating factor.
The judge added that the cruelty count on it’s own was ‘worth’ 4 years determinate and that was factored in. That took the minimum term to 21 years.
The mitigation was substantially reduced by the fact that there was a brutal and sustained assault on Keanu. The personal mitigation outlined above was noted and taken into account.
That reduced the minimum term to 18 years – the equivalent of a 36 year determinate sentence.
He fell to be sentenced for a single count of cruelty to a child – namely biting Keanu as a method of teaching him not to bite. The bite broke the skin, left a large bruise and there were obvious teeth marks.
He was a father of two boys and the Judge found that he treated Keanu very differently to his two sons. The Judge noted that he was of limited intellectual ability. The Judge said: ‘You were weak and, to an extent, naïve.’ but it was accepted that he was not involved in the murder.
The sentence imposed was explained as follows:
The Judge said: You have endured the strain of 5 months on trial for murder, on top of 2 years waiting for the trial to begin. You have spent a total of 13 days on remand during the course of the proceedings. All those factors enable me to take a course which does not involve your going to prison today.
I am satisfied that your offence merits a short term of imprisonment, but for the reasons I have explained I am able to follow the recommendation in the pre-sentence report to suspend that sentence. There will be a sentence of 9 months imprisonment, suspended for a period of 2 years. The supervision requirement will also be for 2 years. In addition you will perform 200hrs of unpaid work for the community within the next 12 months. There will also be a specified activity requirement of 30 days to undertake the victim awareness workbook in order to increase your understanding of your actions and the harm caused.
In terms of Sotherton, the sentence seems a sensible one. It is pragmatic to adopt the course that the Judge did, and to my mind a fair approach.
Turning to Shuttleworth, someone asked me why the sentence wasnt in the 30-year cateogry. The reason is that to attract a 30-year starting point, the murder of a child has to involve sexual or sadistic conduct. One might ask whether the prolonged and brutal violence inflicted upon poor Keanu was sufficient to satisfy that description. It is not and it is important to note that the judge made no finding in relation to Shuttleworth deriving any pleasure from the injuries caused to Keanu.
Personally, I can see nothing wrong with a final sentence somewhere in the 20s – perhaps 23 or 24 years. I think the aggravating features justified a significant uplift (of which insufficient account was taken) and the mitigating features over-generously reduced the minimum term.
Will there be an appeal by Shuttleworth? Possibly, but she may also fear an Attorney-General’s reference (a prosecution appeal against sentence). It may be that 18 years is just about enough to avoid a trip to the Court of Appeal however.