Sarah Sands – sentence increased (as we predicted)

Sarah Sands – sentence increased (as we predicted)

Photo from the BBC


We covered the case of Sarah Sands when she was convicted of Manslaughter in July 2015. She was sentenced to 3½ years for stabbing Michael Pleasted, a neighbourhood paedophile, eight times and leaving him to bleed to death.

She had denied murder, but accepted manslaughter on the basis of loss of control. The jury accepted this, acquitting her of murder. The Judge reduced the sentence from 7 years to take account of the admission of guilt and other mitigation.

At the time we did a piece asking “3 1/2 years for manslaughter – will the AG step in?” To this, we gave the answer a clear ‘yes’ – “The sentence in this case appears to be unduly lenient.



We have a piece about AG References and how they work here. In this case, over 30 people contacted the AG to complain about the sentence, and asking for it to be appealed.

This happened, and on 22nd January 2016 the Court of Appeal agreed, and increased the sentence to 7½ years – a huge increase.

The reason for this was the fact that Ms Sands took the knife to the victim’s house meant that the case was much more serious than the Judge had thought.

The BBC reported that the Judges felt the appropriate starting point was 10 years. Presumably this was before credit for a plea of guilty, and so they felt that the sentence merited 15 years.

Although we thought that the original sentence appeared to be unduly lenient, this is a very large increase. Even allowing for the fact that ‘double jeopardy’ has gone out of fashion, it is surprising to see the sentence more than double. We would have thought than an increase to something in the region of 5-6 years would have been more likely.

But, there is no way for Ms Sands to appeal this sentence, so an extra two years in prison she will serve.


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


  1. Dan (or anyone else sufficiently knowledgable) – out of curiosity, why is there no way for her to appeal this sentence? I thought all sentences could be appealed, even if most aren’t because an appeal would likely be unsuccessful. Is it because it’s already been to the Court of Appeal, even though the purpose was to increase the sentence not reduce it? That seems a bit unfair (as a general principle, I mean – I don’t really disagree with the new sentence in this particular case).

  2. Another interesting question for me, or rather two to be precise. Who were the 30 people who complained ? If I complain about a sentence to the AG are they duty bound to go back to the courts for resentencing ? Sounds like ‘mob rule’ to me.

    Dan ??????

  3. No, they are not bound to go back. The Law Officers are far more likely to act on a report from prosecuting counsel and they will certainly not refer a sentence without such a report. They do not count the number of letters from the public which are no better-informed than the press reports and often less.

  4. @ Andrew
    Dan wrote this: “In this case, over 30 people contacted the AG to complain about the sentence, and asking for it to be appealed.”

    If the huddled masses cant complain then who are these 30 people – all prosecuting counsel ? If it is only prosecuting counsel then why such a statement from Dan ? What relevance do the 30 have ?

    • Under the AG’s Unduly Lenient Scheme, anyone can complain to the Attorney-General that they think a sentence is unduly lenient, and the AG will look at that. I presume the 30 people were members of the public who complained.

      There is a different avenue for prosecuting counsel for obvious reasons.

  5. But the AG won’t act on complaints from the public unless prosecuting counsel reports that the judge has gone way below guidelines for no good reason. If the tabloid press miss out those good reasons or otherwise misreport the facts it does not matter how many of their readers write to the A-G or their local MP – and a lot of people do that – and complain that the sentence was too low – because if it was within guidelines or there were good reasons for going below them, it wasn’t too low, was it?

    • I think the AG launched a campaign to get people to complain, which may or may not have had its merits. Now though, there appear to be organised campaigns to get people to write in on (seemingly any) sentence, so the value of that is much diminished.

      But yes, the AG will probably go on the prosecutor’s report a lot more than a petition!