Attorney General rejects plea for tougher sentence for Rikki killer
- Credit: Archant
Newly appointed Attorney General Edward Timpson has refused a request from the mother of Rikki Neave to challenge the sentence handed out to her son’s killer.
Ruth Neave had called for a tougher sentence after James Watson, who was 13 at the time, was jailed for life for strangling Rikki on the Welland Estate, Peterborough, in 1994.
Watson was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey on June 24, with a minimum term of 15 years, minus the 843 days already served.
“This person has shown no respect or remorse,” said Ruth Neave. “He is a danger to the public and a child murderer and the sentence needs to reflect this.”
But Mr Timpson said he was unwilling to intervene in the sentence.
He told Mrs Neave he had collated papers on the case from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
“These included the facts of the offending, the judge's findings and the sentencing guidelines,” he told her.
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“I also requested specialist legal advice from Treasury Counsel to consider the sentence imposed on Mr Watson.”
Mr Timpson said he had “thought about this case long and hard, given the sentence that was imposed.
“The question I have to ask is whether there are sufficient legal grounds to conclude that the sentence would likely be increased by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).
“After detailed examination of the case, I am afraid it is not possible to meet this threshold.
“And in those circumstances, I cannot properly make such a referral”.
He said the bar to increasing a sentence is a very high one.
“The Court of Appeal will only grant permission to refer a sentence in exceptional circumstances,” he explained.
“For example, if the judge has made some gross error, or has passed a sentence that falls outside the range of sentences which a judge, applying their mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate.
“In considering this, the Court of Appeal will look carefully at the definitive sentencing guidelines which judges must follow when passing sentence, save for where it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.
“Mr Watson was convicted of murder. As Mr Watson was under 18 at the time of the offence, the statutory provisions require a minimum term of at least 12 years to be imposed before he can be considered for release.
“The judge then had to consider any aggravating or mitigating features to arrive at the final minimum term.”
The Attorney General said that “I am satisfied that the judge was alive to the distressing aggravating features of this case, namely that it was a predetermined, sexually motivated murder of a vulnerable young child.
“The judge then considered the mitigating features - Mr Watson's young age at the time and his troubled and abusive upbringing.
“The judge also awarded Mr Watson credit for the time he had already served in prison as he awaited trial.
“This meant his final sentence was 15 years, less 843 days.”
Mr Timpson said the judge was permitted to award this credit because she considered Mr Watson would not have been in custody during that time if he had not been charged with murder.
“In arriving at a final minimum term of 15 years, less 843 days, I am satisfied that this was a sentence properly open to the judge,” said Mr Timpson.
“This sentence does not mean that Mr Watson will automatically be released once the minimum term expires, but that he can be considered for release.
“The final decision will rest with the Parole Board”
He added that test for undue leniency is strictly applied and “it would have been wrong for me to refer this case, and to raise your hopes”.
He had concluded that the Court of Appeal would be unlikely to increase the sentence.
Mrs Neave said she was planning to meet her MP, Daniel Zeichner, to discuss the case.
"I would like to try and get a change in the law regarding sentencing,” she said.
"I have many issues with what happened 28 years ago and no one seems to want to bother.”