Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED December 12, 2003

There were no exceptional circumstances, where a prison inmate made threats to kill a prison officer, that enabled the court to reduce a sentence of three years to two years and then to suspend it. However, given that the defendant was coming to the end of a long term of imprisonment, a sentence of two years would be just.Appeal, with leave of the single judge, against a sentence of three years' imprisonment following a plea of guilty to making a threat to kill imposed on 29 April 2003 at Newcastle Crown Court. The defendant ('D') was serving a prison sentence of 15 years and the sentence of three years was ordered to run consecutively. D had been put into segregation following riots at the prison. On 10 September 2002 four prison officers approached D's cell in order to give him food. D was ordered away from the door and told to hold his hands out in front of him. D refused and the prison officers thought he had something concealed in his hand so they refused to open the door. D shouted one of the prison officer's name and threatened to shoot him, his wife and children when he was released from prison in four months' time. The effect on the prison officer was considerable: whilst he had been threatened by other inmates, D appeared serious and very calm. In addition, D's home address was near his own. As a result the prison officer moved home and moved to another prison. D appealed against his sentence on the ground that the judge should have imposed a suspended sentence and a supervision order. D submitted that there were exceptional circumstances to enable a suspended sentence: he had spent years in segregation and his release date was approaching.HELD: (1) The circumstances could not be viewed as exceptional so as to allow the court to reduce the sentence to two years and then to suspend it. The circumstances of the offence arose through D's own intransigence and difficulty with the feeding regime. (2) An immediate sentence had to follow the end of the current sentence given the seriousness of the offence. However, in all the circumstances, given that D was coming to the end of a very long period of imprisonment, a sentence of two years would be just. The sentence acted as a warning to others mindful of acting in a similar way.Appeal allowed to the extent indicated.