Taxi driver who doused neighbour in petrol and threatened to set him ablaze has jail term cut

PUBLISHED: 17:10 18 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:33 02 June 2010

By James Brewster, at the Criminal Appeal Court, London A TAXI driver who doused a neighbour in petrol and threatened to set him ablaze with a blow torch has had his indefinite sentence overturned - after top judges ruled he is not dangerous. Darren Norri

By James Brewster, at the Criminal Appeal Court, London

A TAXI driver who doused a neighbour in petrol and threatened to set him ablaze with a blow torch has had his indefinite sentence overturned - after top judges ruled he is not dangerous.

Darren Norris, 37, of Gorefield, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, knocked on the door of Russell Thomas, who lived in a caravan close to the village, and greeted him by throwing a full bucket of petrol over him on September 6 2008.

Mr Thomas was then bundled inside by Norris and another man and a blow torch was produced and lit. The terrified victim was told he owed the men £12,000 for a Porsche car he had bought years earlier but had had trouble with.

In fear for his life, Mr Thomas handed over all the cash he had - £2,700 - and was told that if the rest was not paid within days his eyes would be gouged out, his fingers cut off, and his caravan set on fire.

Mr Thomas however contacted police, who staked out his caravan and arrested Norris at gunpoint when he returned to pick up the rest of the cash.

Norris was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment for public protection (IPP) - which is almost identical to a life term - on July 10 last year at Cambridge Crown Court. He had been convicted of aggravated burglary and blackmail on June 17.

Today Lord Justice Moses, Mrs Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Maddison, sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court, quashed Norris' open-ended IPP sentence.

The judges replaced it with a conventional 10-year jail term, of which Norris must serve half before qualifying for automatic release.

The court heard that, whilst he was issuing threats to his victim, Norris told Mr Thomas not to mess around with him, saying: "I do this for a living."

That comment was seized upon by the sentencing judge, who took it as evidence that this was not the first time that Norris had acted in this way, and accordingly dubbed him a "dangerous" offender.

But Norris' lawyers today argued that the offence in fact should have been viewed by the judge as "an aberration in an otherwise decent life."

Mr Justice Maddison, giving the court's judgement, said: "The judge should not have assumed from the facts of the case that this appellant had previous experience of similar activity. This was never a case for an indeterminate sentence.

"The aggravated burglary was a most serious offence of its kind, and as to the blackmail the threats were extremely unpleasant and persistent.

"However there was some overlap between the two offences and Mr Thomas was not physically injured.

"We think that the proper sentence would be a determinate sentence of 10 years," the judge concluded.


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