William Tolcher – serving prisoner dodges whole life tariff for murder

William Tolcher – serving prisoner dodges whole life tariff for murder

Photo from the BBC


On 19th May 2016 William Tolcher, who was 15 years in to a life sentence, was convicted of the murder of Alex Cusworth when they were both working in the prison kitchen in HMP Dartmoor last November.

The reasons for the attack are unclear. Nothing had been said between Mr Tolcher and Mr Cusworth before the attack, but “it was believed the victim had said something earlier which Tolcher had taken offence to“.

It seems that Mr Tolcher’s defence was that he was being framed by another. This didn’t cut much ice with the jury, who convicted him unanimously.

On 20th May, Mr Tolcher was sentenced to life imprisonment with a tariff of 33 years.


Sentence and comment

The only sentence is life imprisonment. Against that backdrop, there could only be a very lengthy tariff. Is seems that the Judge took a starting point of 30 years, and then increased it by 10%.

Why did he not get a whole life tariff? We haven’t had the sentencing remarks to see, but the starting point was a whole life tariff, at least ‘usually’.

The Judge, as almost always with sentencing, has a discretion, and it seems that this Judge decided that it merited the lower (but still extremely high) starting point of 30 years. It is unlikely that the AG would seek to appeal this.

As for Mr Tolcher? He may try to appeal it, but we doubt that he will get very far. It was a case where a whole life, or an even longer tariff, would have been hard to argue against.

In many ways, that is all academic. He is currently 51, so even with a 33 year minimum tariff the earliest he could be released is when he is 84. At that stage, if he is still alive (and prisoners life expectancy is lower than that of the general population), it is unlikely he would be a risk to anyone.

And that is before considering that almost nobody gets out ‘on tariff’. Mr Tolcher does not seem the sort of person who will be making a great effort to reform, so it is likely that he will die in prison, or he will only be released if he is terminally ill.

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