Earlier in the year, we covered the case of Sarah Sands who was convicted of the manslaughter of Michael Pleasted a convicted padeophile who was awaiting trial for further sexual offences.
You can read our coverage of the trial and conviction here.
Sands’ 77-year-old neighbour Michael Pleasted was on bail for sexual assault offences committed against two children under the age of 13. There was an investigation into offences committed in respect of a third child. Pleasted had 24 previous convictions for child sexual offences dating from 1970.
Sands’ account was that she went to confront Pleasted at his flat in Canning Town, east London. She said that she had no intention of harming him and had gone to convince him to admit to his offences in order to save the victims the trauma of going to court.
However – she said – Pleasted would not listen and smirked, claiming that the complainants were lying. Sands then – “in a fit of rage” – stabbed Pleasted eight times. He crawled into his hallway where he bled to death.
Shortly after, Sands handed herself into the police, commenting:
“Who’s housing a f****** paedophile on an estate, like, seriously? He was, like, asking for trouble…I was frightened. It was not how it was meant to go. He was meant to listen to me.”
At the trial, Sands described the killing:
“I just had it (the knife) in my hand and I poked him with it in the front and that’s when we both realised at the same time what had happened and he grabbed me…He was frightening me and I pushed him away and I left. That was it.”
She was convicted of manslaughter by reason of loss of control. It appears that she had accepted that she was responsible for the killing but disputed the charge of murder. The Crown pursued the murder charge and jury found her not guilty of that.
Loss of control is a parti defence to murder and replaced the defence of provocation. Unfortunately, the sentencing guidelines have not been updated to reflect this change in the law brought about by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. More details on loss of control can be found here.
The maximum available sentence was life imprisonment (as manslaughter is a common law offence and the sentence is “at large”).
Sentencing Sands, the judge said:
“This was a case in which the defendant promptly gave herself up to the police in a highly stressed state, never disputed responsibility for the killing as a matter of fact, did not take the opportunity to get rid of evidence and demonstrated remorse.”
Describing the case as “truly exceptional”, the judge imposed a sentence of 3 years 6 months, having reduced that from 7 years. The BBC reported that a principal consideration for such a reduction was the fact that Sands is a single mother. It is unclear how the judge arrived at a figure of 7 years, or why he felt a 50% reduction was appropriate. It appears however, that the 50% credit includes a reduction for the guilty plea and other mitigation.
The sentence in this case appears to be unduly lenient.
We have not seen any medical evidence or other evidence as to her mental state at the time of the killing, however, it would appear that her culpability is high as she went to his address with a knife for the purposes of having an altercation concerning his sexual offending – the ultimate reason given for the killing.
Additionally, the reduction made for the fact she is a single mother appears to be incapable of standing up to scrutiny. Such arguments, usually reliant upon the case of R. v Petherick  EWCA Crim 2214, are far more powerful when the offence is on the custody threshold as, to keep the parent out of custody will mean that the child or children can remain in the family home with the mother or father. In this case, it is difficult to see how that submission could be particularly powerful as, with a custodial sentence of 3.5 years (even having served 10 months on remand, which will be deducted from her sentence), she will still be in prison for another 11 months at the very least – in those circumstances, how does it help the children that her sentence is not any longer? Alternative childcare arrangements will need to be made.
As to her release, serving another 11 months is the absolute minimum. This was the earliest date that the BBC reported Sands could be released. Whilst that is strictly correct, it overlooks the fact that manslaughter is an offence for which a prisoner is automatically deemed unsuitable (see PSI 43/2012 Annex B) and as such, it is expected she will remain in prison until she has served the full custodial period of one-half of the 3.5 years.