Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED February 21, 2003

Sentences passed on members of a gang who had habitually carried and used guns and supplied drugs on a large scale basis were all unduly lenient. Sentences for firearm offences should run consecutively with sentences for other offences with appropriate adjustments to ensure that the total tariff imposed was not too high. Four of the sentences were unduly lenient given that the defendants had been senior members of the gang and heavily involved in its activities.Application by the Attorney-General to refer sentences under s.36 Criminal Justice Act 1988 as unduly lenient. On 17 January 2002 at Preston Crown Court before Sachs J three of the defendants ('B', 'M' and 'P') had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life; and conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs, namely crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis. On 27 March 2002 the other six defendants ('C', 'D', 'G', 'O', 'S' and 'T') were convicted of the same offences. On 7 May 2002 at Manchester Crown Court Sachs J handed down the following sentences: (i) M four-and-a-half years' in a Young Offender Institution; (ii) O five-and-a-half years' in a Young Offender Institution; (iii) C and P six years' imprisonment; (iv) D seven years' imprisonment; (v) S seven-and-a-half years' imprisonment; (vi) B and T eight years' imprisonment; and (vii) G nine years in a Young Offender Institution. B and G applied for leave to appeal sentence, on the ground that there was an unfair disparity between their sentences and the sentences that had been imposed on the other defendants. The registrar referred the matter to the full court. The defendants had all been members of a gang, based in Manchester, that had supplied drugs to their territory. They had habitually carried loaded firearms in order to enforce their territorial rights against rival gangs and to protect themselves. They wore dark clothing, balaclavas and bullet proof vests. G, and B were respected members of the gang who had been part of the gang from its inception. They distributed drugs to junior gang members to deal on the streets. Between October 1999 and December 2000 there were a number of shootings as tension arose between rival gangs. Members of the public had often been caught in the crossfire. In October 2000 a taxi driver had been robbed at gun point. M had been arrested subsequently. Police who had searched him discovered the taxi-driver's keys, several self-seal bags containing heroin and guns. Searches were also carried out at other properties and DNA taken which matched other members of the gang. The Attorney-General referred the sentences as unduly lenient given the aggravating factors of: (a) the conspiracy to posses firearms reflected the most serious offending of its kind involving prolonged use of the firearms, which was clearly premeditated and violent; (b) the weapons were prohibited and there was no legitimate reason for the gang to have them; (c) guns had been habitually carried with the express purpose of endangering lives; (iv) people had been struck with guns; (v) weapons were discharged publicly and members of the public had often been caught in the cross fire; (vi) the defendants had carried out a retail trade in drugs; and (vii) the trade was a large scale business. Drugs had been dealt 24 hours a day seven days a week. There had been a huge increase in gun crime in large cities and in the formation of gangs. The court had to do what it could to eradicate these trends. The individual mitigating factors were: D, although one of the eldest, was a junior member of the gang, G was of previous good character, M had pleaded guilty, albeit late, and was the youngest at 17-years-old, B had pleaded guilty, O was a junior member of the gang and there was no evidence that he had been present at any of the shootings and P had pleaded guilty very early. He had been a junior member and there was no evidence that he had discharged any weapon or had been present when one was discharged. The Attorney-General submitted that case law authorities demonstrated that simple possession with intent merited a sentence of seven to eight years' imprisonment. In the present case the gang had had access to a number of guns. The drugs offences on their own merited a ten-year sentence in a contested trial. A 20-year sentence for a defendant of full age was appropriate.HELD: (1) Although a 20-year sentence for a defendant of full age was correct it was necessary to give consideration to each offender. Their ages, previous character and peer pressure all had a part to play. (2) Where guns were carried and used it was desirable to pass consecutive sentences but if that was done the sentence had to be adjusted to make sure the total tariff was not too high. (3) The most senior members of the gang were G, T, B and S. The sentencing judge described G, now 21-years-old, as "up to his neck in it" for the part that he had played. The nine-year sentence was unduly lenient. The sentence for the firearms offences should have been eight years' to run consecutively with a sentence of six years' imprisonment for the drugs offences. Those sentences were only at that level because of his age. That sentence had to be discounted to represent the fact that G was effectively being sentenced for the second time. In the circumstances, a sentence of seven years' imprisonment for the firearms offences was appropriate to run consecutively with a five-year sentence for drugs offences giving a total of 12 years in YOI. G was declined leave to appeal. (4) T, now 22-years-old, had previous convictions for possession with intent to supply heroin and cocaine. Whilst the judge accepted that he was the "least around" the sentence passed was unduly lenient. It was clear that T was a leader and extremely involved for the short period he was around. The sentence should be increased in the same way as G's, even though T was older and had been involved for a shorter period. (5) The sentence passed on B, now 19-years-old, was unduly lenient. The correct sentence should have been seven years' for the firearms offences to run consecutively with five years' for the drug offences. A reduction was also necessary to reflect that this was a second sentence. In the circumstances, a six-year' sentence for firearms and four-years sentence for drugs offences was appropriate and took into account both B's guilty plea and his lack of previous convictions. B was also declined leave to appeal. (6) The sentence passed on S was unduly lenient and the same sentence as G and B should be substituted. He was a senior and active member although he was involved for a shorter period. (7) The remainder of the defendants were all junior members of the gang, conspicuously younger and much less involved with the firearms save that they knew the other members had and used firearms. A distinction had to be drawn between those that possess firearms and those that just knew about it. The sentences passed on the junior members of the gang were all lenient but not unduly so.