Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED October 30, 2003

Whilst in the circumstances significant credit should have been given for very late pleas of guilty, the sentences for conspiracy to carry out domestic burglary in all but one case were not manifestly excessive and there was no disparity.Appeals with leave of the single judge, against sentences following pleas of guilty, imposed at Sheffield Crown Court for conspiracy to carry out domestic burglary. On 11 July 2002 the defendants ('S', 'R', 'H' and 'E') were sentenced as follows: S to seven years' imprisonment, E to six years, H to ten years and R, who also pleaded guilty to a commercial burglary to eight years. A co-accused was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Between June 2000 and July 2001, the defendants, who were a gang of professional burglars, carried out planned attacks on identified properties. They were well equipped, carrying two way radios, police scanners and dressed in camouflage clothes and balaclavas. CCTV footage showed how the operation resembled a para-military operation. There was large scale damage to some of the properties where safes were ripped out or walls smashed to facilitate escape. Stolen items included jewellery, paintings, pottery, cash and cars. In all 17 separate burglaries were carried out. When police were investigating the final burglary, they found some of the stolen items hidden near the burgled house. They kept watch and arrested the defendants when they came to collect the property. There was scientific evidence linking each of the defendants to at least two of the burglaries. Shortly before the trial the defendants pleaded guilty on a written basis. When sentencing the judge only allowed a small discount for the pleas of guilty as they were entered at such a late stage. The defendants appealed against sentences on the ground that the judge erred in failing to give sufficient credit for the pleas.HELD: (1) Whilst, on the face of it, it appeared the defendants had left their pleas to a late stage it was understandable given the history of the case. When the matter was first listed for trial the prosecution offered to accept pleas to substantive offences but only if all the defendants agreed. It was only when that offer expired that the prosecution accepted the written basis. The pleas were therefore tendered at the first reasonable opportunity. That situation often arose and defendants were entitled to significant credit for their pleas of guilty even at that late stage. (2) Even taking into account the need for significant credit for the guilty pleas the sentences of S, H and E were not manifestly excessive and there was no disparity. These were very serious crimes and defendants who involved themselves in such serious crimes deserved severe sentences. (3) R's sentence would be reduced from 8 years' to 7 years' imprisonment to reflect his level of involvement.Decision accordingly.