>> 1 Oct 2004


By Courthawk.

We start this week with an unusual case. It is unusual because it shows that a life sentence can still sometimes mean life, even today in the United Kingdom. The circumstances of this case are particularly appalling, but for once the punishment fitted the crime.

The story is from BBC News Online:

Killer of trainee rabbi gets life. A psychopath who strangled and cut up a gay trainee rabbi with a ripsaw has been jailed for the rest of his life. Thomas McDowell, 27, throttled Andreas Hinz, then dumped his head, limbs and torso in bin bags in Camden, north London. The body parts were found when the uncollected rubbish attracted flies. McDowell, born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, was told by the judge at Southwark Crown Court he remained a serious danger to the public. McDowell suffered abuse as a child and grew up hating homosexuals, the court had been told. He had admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. But on Wednesday, the jury found him guilty of murdering Mr Hinz, a 27-year-old German national, on 3 July, 2002.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC told McDowell the only appropriate sentence was one in which he would spend his whole life in prison. "You are a dangerous psychopath. There are no two ways about it," he said. Judge Rivlin accepted McDowell had suffered abuse at the hands of a man who was later jailed. He told McDowell it was not his fault he had developed a serious personality disorder. But he said McDowell remained a danger, particularly to homosexuals.

"There are features of this case which, in my judgment, make it one of the more serious and which, first and foremost, calls for the protection of the public. I do not know whether it will ever be thought safe to release you into the community," said Judge Rivlin, giving a "whole life" order. McDowell was take from the court to Rampton High Security Hospital, where he will serve the first part of his sentence in the personality disorder unit.

(DV Comment: This was indeed a shocking case, I read the lurid details in horror and am glad life means life here. Justice was done, though it won't bring back the young man butchered by McDowell)

The next case was referred to in last week's column. It concerns the brutal murder of Angela Snoddy by her ex-partner Conor Doyle. Doyle got a ten year sentence for stabbing her 70 times. The sentence has now been increased to 15 years on appeal. While 15 years is nowhere near enough (30 would be more like it) it is at least an improvement on the previous paltry sentence and will hopefully be a "marker" for future murders of this type.

The story is from the Irish News:

Mother welcomes increase in life sentence A mother, whose daughter was stabbed more than 70 times by her former partner, said his increased jail term for the brutal murder should send out a clear message that “violent men won’t be tolerated in our society”.

Helen Snoddy was speaking after Belfast’s Court of Appeal told Conor Gerard Doyle, from the Limestone Road in north Belfast, that he must now serve at least 15 years in prison before being considered for release. The 23-year-old chef’s jail term was increased by 50 per cent, from 10 years to 15 years, after the family of his victim

Angela Snoddy mounted a campaign for a tougher sentence to reflect the extreme violent nature of his crime. The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal after the Attorney General ruled the original sentence was unduly lenient.Ms Snoddy’s mutilated body was discovered at her home in Glenville Road, Whiteabbey, Co Antrim in October 2002. Stabbed more than 70 times, the 21-year-old’s throat had been cut and a large kitchen knife was protruding from her chest. A previous court hearing heard that the pair had a ‘stormy’ relationship and that Miss Snoddy had sought a non-molestation order against Doyle, who had initially denied murder but later admitted his guilt. At the time of the killing the couple’s baby son was just seven weeks old and the victim also had a three-year-old daughter by a previous partner. On the night of the murder police were called to a car crash in the Monkstown estate and Doyle, who was heavily intoxicated, was found with blood on his forehead, hands and arms. He was reported to have told officers en route to the police station: “At least I’ll see my child in 20 years, she won’t” and “Her family wants to put me down. I put her down, tough shit.”

Doyle, dressed in a blue shirt, tie and dark-coloured trousers, sat expressionless in the dock at the Court of Appeal yesterday as relatives of his victim looked on. He mostly looked straight ahead, avoiding the glances of the Snoddy family and occasionally sat with his head bowed. Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr, said of the original tariff set: “What is clear, beyond question, is that she was the victim of a horrendous, sustained attack in which a number of knives were used. “It cannot be certain at what stage Miss Snoddy sustained fatal injury. One can only hope that it was at an early point in this appalling attack. Unquestionably, the injuries to the throat would have caused her rapid death. At whatever stage she died, however, what must not be lost sight of is that she was the victim of an unspeakable assault,” the judge added. “That factor must figure prominently in any assessment of the requirements of retribution in the selection of the minimum period that the offender must be required to serve. “She was a young woman living alone who was no match in physical strength to the offender. She would have been quite unable to defend herself against the ferocity of his attack on her and indeed there were no signs of defensive injuries detectable on postmortem examination. Like many unfortunate women she was at the mercy of a male partner of superior strength.”

The north’s most senior judge told Doyle that violence against women must be heavily punished. “Unhappily, violence against partners meted out usually by men on women is all too prevalent in our society,” the Lord Chief Justice said. “While few cases involve the level of violence that was inflicted on the victim on this occasion, courts have a duty to send a clear message to those who engage in violence on women that severe penalties will be imposed on those who are found guilty of it.”

Sir Brian and his two fellow appeal court judges, said that any sorrow expressed by Doyle was not genuine enough to be used in mitigation. “Doyle’s expressions of regret do not rest easily with his remarks to friends and police in the immediate aftermath of the killing, or with the absence of much expressed remorse during police interviews when he was no longer intoxicated,” he said.Speaking outside the court the victim’s mother Helen expressed relief that Doyle’s sentenced was increased. “Fifteen years sits better with me than 10. It sends a better message out to the violent men that have the murder of their partners’ on their minds. The courts won’t tolerate it,” she said.

Asked if she thought the increased sentence was long enough, Mrs Snoddy replied: “Obviously not, 15 years wouldn’t be long enough for my child’s life. There is no judge in the land that has the power to give Conor Doyle what he does deserve. “There has to be a clear message put out there that violent men won’t be tolerated in our society. Women are vulnerable. It doesn’t matter if your are nine or 90. If you are a woman against a man, of course you are vulnerable, every time.” Mrs Snoddy said she will now try to rebuild her life and those of her grandchildren. “This will give me a break now with my grandchildren and let me get on to bring my grandchildren up into adults without having to worry about Conor Doyle getting out in eight years time. “It is my grandchildren, that is what it is all about to me. However, she added: “That fear will never leave me of Conor Doyle, when he gets out, of coming after me and my family.”

Doyle’s increased jail term comes amid ongoing public anger over perceived ‘lenient’ sentences handed down to criminals, particularly for violent crimes. Hilary Sidwell, director of Northern Ireland’s Women’s Aid Federation (NIWAF), said: “The tragedy of Angela’s death must not be repeated. NIWAF is encouraged by the outcome of this appeal and is hopeful that the impact of domestic violence on women and their children is beginning to be better understood by the courts. “There is still a lot to be done to change the experience many women have of the criminal justice system. “Women’s Aid wants the criminal justice system to play its full role in sending the unequivocal message that men who are violent will feel the full force of the law,” Ms Sidwell added. “We urge the judiciary and all legal professions to develop their understanding of domestic violence through education and training. The courts must respond more effectively to victims and their needs.”

Finally, back to car crime and particularly so-called "joy-riding". Two new offences are now on the statute book, but it remains to be seen if they will make any difference in practice. The previous maximum sentence of 10 years for causing death by dangerous driving was never imposed in Northern Ireland, so is there any chance that the new maximum of 14 will be? The best we can hope for is that it will tend to push up the average sentence in these cases, but even that will not happen if the new legislation is not used by the DPP.

The story is from the Irish News:

Mother welcomes new car crime laws The mother of a west Belfast teenager killed by so-called joyriders last night welcomed the long-awaited introduction of new car crime laws. Mary McComb, whose 15-year-old daughter Debbie, above, died in March 2002 after being struck by a stolen car, said she hoped new police powers and stiffer sentences would help save lives. The new laws, which follow a high-profile campaign by pressure group, Families Bereaved Through Car Crime (FBTCC), came into effect yesterday. It is hoped the toughening of legislation will help curb the scourge which has claimed nearly 50 lives in Northern Ireland over the last 23 years.

Within the new traffic laws, anyone found guilty of aggravated vehicle taking faces up to five years in jail. Additionally, if offenders cause a death or serious injury they could face a maximum sentence of 14 years.Speaking last night, Mrs McComb said: “These new laws are very welcome and hopefully they will help save lives. They were a long time coming, but anything that may prevent people suffering as my family did has got to be positive.”


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