Another Thursday, another news outlet seemingly heck bent on grabbing my dander and yanking it to attention. Today is the turn of the Metro to use its front page to demonstrate how to merrily defecate on the quaint outmoded journalistic principles of “fairness” and “accuracy”. Although, extending to the Metro the fairness that it has denied its duped readers, some sort of prize – the Trump Award for Incorrigible Spaffwaddery, perhaps – is due for the audacity in slamming (to adopt the journalese) a judge as “soft” for imposing the maximum sentence the law allows. We are through the looking glass now, my friends.
The author of this mess has either not read or not understood the sentencing remarks of HHJ Kinch Q.C. yesterday when dealing with the £14m Hatton Garden burglary, in which he carefully explained how he had arrived at the sentences imposed. Top tip for you – if you’re going to report on a legal story, just have a gander at, y’know, what the Judge actually said. It’s even easier, I’d suggest, when the Judge takes the time to type, publish and make his remarks publicly available to the press. Frankly, I don’t blame the Learned Judge for waking up this morning, seeing the newspapers and wondering why the jiminy he even bothers.
So, a quick primer for the Metro. The defendants John Collins, Daniel Jones and Terence Perkins were charged with conspiracy to burgle. The maximum sentence for any burglary, other than a dwelling, is 10 years’ imprisonment. That’s not a judicial folly of a crim-hugging judge. That’s section 9(3) of the Theft Act 1968, the law, as enacted by Parliament.
At the hearing, the prosecution submitted that an offence of this type called for the maximum sentence available – i.e. 10 years. The defence argued that this should be reserved for even worse cases. You don’t have to have been at the hearing to know this – the Judge sets this out in plain English at para 17.
The Judge agreed with the prosecution. In fact, he said, at para 20:
“I am satisfied that nothing other than the maximum sentence permitted by law would be appropriate as a starting point for anyone convicted of conspiring to take part in this exceptional case.”
For each of the principal offenders – Collins, Jones and Perkins – the Judge, applying credit for their guilty pleas, as he is required to do by the Sentencing Guidelines and the Court of Appeal authority of R v Caley  EWCA Crim 2821 – again, legal mandates, these, not some soft old bugger dishing out freebies like Werther’s Originals – arrived at the maximum sentence the law allowed – 7 years’ imprisonment.
So, how did the Metro reporter interpret the proceedings?
“[The Judge] showed leniency after prosecutors suggested ten years should be the ‘starting point’ for sentencing”.
Leniency? LENIENCY? HE GAVE THEM THE MAXIMUM SENTENCE THE LAW ALLOWED. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT, YOU PUSTULATING TWIT?
By all means, criticise – as I often do – the law that tied the Judge’s hands. Throw your weight behind the Law Commission’s valiant efforts to inject some sense and consistency into the sentencing morass that has resulted from decades of on-the-hoof populist legislating by idiot politicians.
But don’t blame the Judge.
I don’t particularly enjoy taking personalised pot shots at journalists, because I recognise that it’s a damn difficult job, and often the story you want to write doesn’t fit with what those above impel you to write. And inevitably there’s a compromise. I know the industry.
But stories like this – lacking even a resemblance to the truth – cannot be left unchallenged. This was not a case of soft sentencing. It was the polar freaking opposite. And either you, Mr Reporter, know that, and are lying to your readers. Or you and/or your subs haven’t bothered to do the most basic research before filing copy. Either way, you should be deeply embarrassed.
I think the issue is the phrase “starting point”. The journalist has interpreted this to mean “minimum”. I think it is a lack of basic knowledge and the sheer laziness in failing to read the sentencing remarks that is the issue here.
But the starting point was the maximum. That’s what’s so troubling – there’s really very little room for error.
I am confused – was the maximum 7 or 10 years?
Statutory max is 10 years. Because they pleaded guilty early, judge was required to give credit of 30%, making 7 years.
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