“That can’t be right!” I hear you say. Well…let’s see.
On 15 April 2015, the Daily Mail covered the story of a delightful young man called Samuel Tushingham.
Tushingham, 26, assaulted his then girlfriend over a period of some six months. The assaults included dragging her by her hair, slapping her around the head and throwing a toaster at her and hit her head against a radiator.
He had pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating (having kicked his girlfriend in the thigh, causing a large bruise) and was convicted after a trial of three further offences. The three further offences are described as “assault” – which could be common assault or s.47 ABH. On the basis of the sentence imposed, we would assume that they were all common assault offences.
It was said in mitigation that Tushingham had suffered from mental health and alcohol problems.
What did the judge say?
DJ Bridget Knight said: ‘You acted like a caveman, dragging the victim by her hair and assaulting her over a period of months between April and September.
‘You are almost too dangerous for me to send you to prison because you need work done on you.
‘You will be on the course with other men and I hope you find it quite repulsive the excuses people give for beating a woman because there is no excuse for acting like this.
She then imposed a suspended sentence of 26 weeks’ imprisonment, with an unpaid work requirement of 80 hours and a requirement to attend a course called ‘improving relations supporting change’. There was also an order for costs “and fines” of £1,300 (we’re not sure about the “fine” element, it maybe that that refers to the victim surcharge. The criminal courts charge would not apply because the offence was not committed after 13 April 2015.
There are two stages in imposing a short custodial sentence; the first is to determine the length, the second is to determine, if the sentence is 24 months or less, whether or not the sentence can be suspended. Those two steps are entirely independent – or at least they should be.
On the basis that all offences were common assault, the length of the sentence (i.e. 26 weeks’ imprisonment) seems appropriate. The real seriousness of the offending is the fact he repeatedly assaulted the same victim, and so a sentence of 26 weeks (at the very top of the offence range in the guidelines) would appear to be broadly appropriate.
As for the decision whether or not suspend the sentence, the justification that Tushingham is “almost too dangerous to send to prison” is perhaps poorly expressed. What we assume was meant, is that Tushingham obviously has issues with his temper, with violence and with his attitudes towards women, particularly women with whom he is in a relationship. Therefore, to send him to custody for 26 weeks (with him only serving half, at the most, and most likely being released early on Home Detention Curfew) provides no time at all for him to engage in a course designed to address this behaviour. Therefore, the sensible option (the only option in my opinion) is to sentence him to a suspended sentence (which can last up to two years) and require that he complete a course designed to address the cause of his offending.
There is no doubt this was a disgusting offence, but one of the aims of sentencing is to rehabilitate and reduce offending. For all but a very small number of prisoners who will never be released, this should be a priority.
The decision in this case, though perhaps poorly expressed, seems right on the money.
Oh, and if you’d like a giggle, read the comments at the bottom of the Daily Mail article for the very predictable reaction of middle England.