On 10 July 2015, Sarah Sands, 32 was convicted of manslaughter. The Independent ran the story and details can be seen 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.”
Conviction – what is loss of control?
The jury acquitted Sands of murder but convicted her of manslaughter by reason of loss of control.
Loss of control is a partial defence to murder and it replaced “provocation” (although the sentencing guidelines in relation to this have not been updated). The change was brought about by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 s.54:
Partial defence to murder: loss of control
(1)Where a person (“D”) kills or is a party to the killing of another (“V”), D is not to be convicted of murder if—
(a)D’s acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing resulted from D’s loss of self-control,
(b)the loss of self-control had a qualifying trigger, and
(c)a person of D’s sex and age, with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint and in the circumstances of D, might have reacted in the same or in a similar way to D.
(2)For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), it does not matter whether or not the loss of control was sudden.
(3)In subsection (1)(c) the reference to “the circumstances of D” is a reference to all of D’s circumstances other than those whose only relevance to D’s conduct is that they bear on D’s general capacity for tolerance or self-restraint.
(4)Subsection (1) does not apply if, in doing or being a party to the killing, D acted in a considered desire for revenge.
(5)On a charge of murder, if sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue with respect to the defence under subsection (1), the jury must assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not.
(6)For the purposes of subsection (5), sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue with respect to the defence if evidence is adduced on which, in the opinion of the trial judge, a jury, properly directed, could reasonably conclude that the defence might apply.
(7)A person who, but for this section, would be liable to be convicted of murder is liable instead to be convicted of manslaughter.
(8)The fact that one party to a killing is by virtue of this section not liable to be convicted of murder does not affect the question whether the killing amounted to murder in the case of any other party to it.
There is case law on the defence and a number of propositions and principles arising out of those cases, one of which is that context is extremely important.
She will be sentenced in September. The maximum is life imprisonment (as manslaughter is a common law offence and the sentence is “at large”). Manslaughter has a very wide range of sentences imposed, given the widely disparate way in which the offence can be committed.
Barring any significant information we are unaware of, this will be an immediate custodial sentence measured in years.