Around Christmas 2010 Vincent Tabak strangled his neighbour Joanna Yeates. Later that year he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years.
The case attracted a large amount of notoriety, both because of the nature of it, but also because of the tabloid insinuations and hounding of Chris Jefferies.
During the course of the investigation, Mr Tabak’s computer was analysed and indecent images of children were found. These were not adduced at the trial. This was because it was not relevant, but was obviously hugely prejudicial.
After the murder conviction and Mr Tabak’s unsuccessful appeal, he was summonsed to Court to face the child pornography charges. After denying it, he pleaded guilty on 2nd March 2015 and was sentenced to 10 months.
Mr Tabak pleaded guilty to 4 counts, reflecting 145 images that were found. These comprised of 129 at Category C (the lowest), 10 at Category B and 6 at Category A. There are Sentencing Guidelines (page 76).
The old Oliver Guidelines were very useful. The new ones far less so – they are extremely cumbersome. Possession of Category A has a range of 6 months to 3 years. Often people have hundreds, thousands and sometimes more images, so 6 is a very small number. This would give a sentence of around the 6-8 months mark. There will be some credit for a plea of guilty, but not much as it was on the day of trial.
The elephant in the room of course is the conviction and sentence for murder. On a strict legal view, these offences were committed before the murder and so should not really be taken into account. On the other hand, surely it can’t be ignored?
It maybe that that (or of course something else such as the nature of the images) is the reason why a 10 month sentence was passed.
It’s completely academic as whatever the sentence is, it has to start today. So whether he got 10 weeks, 10 months or 10 years it wouldn’t make any difference to when he would be released.
What was his defence?
We don’t know. There was legal argument as to whether he could have a fair trial, and after the Judge ruled that he could, the guilty pleas were entered.
It’s a difficult area. We have to trust juries, but this is one of a handful of cases that one looks at over the last few years and wonder whether it is humanly possible for a jury to put everything in the press out of their heads and approach the case neutrally.
This case is not quite in the same category as Garry Glitter last week, and the finding of the Judge is certainly not a surprise. The case of Stuart Hall does show that juries are pretty robust, more so that I would have imagined (so I may be being unduly cautious, but this is an area that would benefit from some further research.
Why prosecute him for this?
Good question. The official reason given by the police is that “Although he’s serving a minimum tariff of 20 years’ imprisonment, we felt it was crucial Tabak was brought to justice for possessing indecent images of children, so the full nature of Tabak’s offending is on record.
“Tabak is now a convicted sex offender and this means an extensive range of protective measures can now be put in place to manage his criminal behaviour and protect those at risk.”
I can see the argument, and I recognise that there will be times when someone serving a life sentence for murder can properly be prosecuted for offences that pre-date the sentence (it’s different where someone escapes or commits an assault in prison where the public interest is clearer). I’m not completely convinced it was needed here.
True it is that he is now banned from working with children etc, but the protection given by a life licence is, in practice, a lot more powerful than many of the other preventative orders. And, of course, the Parole Board would have looked at the question of sexual risk in any event, as well as the overall question of harm, when the time came when he could apply for release.
In any event, the protection regime will almost certainly be completely different when Mr Tabak comes to be released (if he ever is). So, I am not completely convinced by the argument. Although it could be said that there is no harm in prosecuting him, this whole procedure will have cost more than 5 figures (it’s always difficult to judge). At a time when cases are not being properly pursued because of a lack of resources, a decision to prosecute impacts on other cases and means (sadly) that other victims of crime don’t get the justice they deserve. Is that a price worth paying?