Murder – mandatory life sentence – tariffs – knife

Ben Kinsella’s killers sentenced to life June 2009.

As Ben’s father has said on the steps outside the Old Bailey "How many families will have to stand on the street outside the Old Bailey to get justice?"
Juress Kika, 19, Jade Braithwaite, 20, and 18-year-old Michael Alleyne were found guilty at the Old Bailey, on Thursday 11 June 2009, of stabbing 16-year-old Ben to death after an argument in a pub which did not involve him.
Apparently Ben paid the ultimate price because Braithwaite felt that some one, other than Ben, had not respected him in the pub.  Respect, of course, cannot possibly be earned in this way. Someone should have told Braithwaite and the others that you have to earn respect, and they should treat others as they would like to be treated.

Ben, who had been in that part of London celebrating the end of his GCSEs, can be seen on CCTV being chased down a road and cornered between two vans after becoming separated from his friends in the early hours of June 29 last year.   He was a straight A * student much loved by his family.

Ironically Ben had once written to Gordon Brown calling for action to halt the menace of knife crime.  The evidence showed that he had walked away from the fight outside Shillibeers bar in Islington, north London.

Ben had been stabbed 11 times in just five seconds in an attack condemned as "cowardly" by the judge, who told all three they must serve a minimum of 19 years in prison before being considered for parole.   The fact that the prosecution could not establish who had used the knife made no difference – under the law it was enough that they were there.

The Old Bailey erupted with obvious delight at the verdict as the Common Sergeant of London, Judge Brian Barker, sentenced each of the killers to a minimum of 19 years.  Murder carries a mandatory life sentence so that the trial judge had no discretion, except to consider the appropriate tariff when setting the minimum number of years they must serve for knife crime i.e. 15 years.  As one might expect some members of our society do not think this is enough.

When sentencing, Judge Barker told the killers: 'Ben Kinsella had in front of him a lifetime of promise and you have taken all that away from him by a brutal, cowardly and totally unjustified attack. The background is depressing and all too familiar in these courts. It reflects the futility of carrying and using knives by some young people.'

Judge Barker continued 'Your behaviour generates outrage in all right-minded people and your blind and heartless anger defies belief.  No attempt was made to help him in any way and not a hint of remorse has been shown by any of you. I can only deduce that in your minds someone had to pay the ultimate price, whoever that might be. What you have done has caused untold anguish, this was a terrible attack and you knew exactly what you were doing and you must take responsibility for your actions.'

The judge added, 'The crime was aggravated by the fact that you picked on an obviously younger and smaller lone victim.'

Brooke Kinsella, who has been responsible for voicing concerns about knife crime, said outside court: 'The sentences are good, but it is little more than Ben lived, so it is not really enough.'

Ben's mother, Deborah, told ITV News she wished the sentences were longer. 'Life should be life' she said.  Deborah Kinsella is not alone in this view.

Ben's father, George Kinsella, spoke of parents who "live in fear" of their children not returning home from school every day.

Speaking on the steps of court after Thursday's verdicts, he said: "How many families like ours will have to stand on the street outside the Old Bailey to get justice?  Knife crime is now sadly embedded in the heart of Great Britain, always running the lives of gangs and feral youths.  Parents live in fear until their children are safely home. It could be a wrong word, a wrong look or the wrong postcode.  In Ben's case, it was something which was nothing to do with him at all."

The killing, the 17th murder of a teenager in London last year, has added to calls for a review of the laws on carrying knifes.

So what of the government’s response?  Too late for Ben some might argue but are they finally prepared to listen to the public concerns?

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has told the House of Commons that minimum sentences for knife murders are to be reviewed. The move follows concern over the sentencing in the case of Ben Kinsella. The current tariff for knife murder is 15 years. For gun murders it is 30 years.  Mr Straw has been reported as saying that he would examine the minimum term "starting points" for people convicted of murders involving knives in England and Wales.

Ben's parents, George and Deborah Kinsella, clearly are of the view that the government should review sentencing guidelines to enable judges to hand down stiffer sentences.

Jack Straw says "In the light of these concerns I intend to review the provisions of schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 with a view to deciding whether to amend it as I can by order.  I will of course be consulting the senior judiciary and the Sentencing Guidelines Council and would be very happy to receive wider representations."   Does this sound convincing?

Not according to Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Secretary, he said the Conservatives welcomed a review but said that what Mr Straw had announced looked like a publicity stunt. Mr Grieve went on to say "The government cannot expect to be taken seriously when it is releasing thousands of violent offenders from prison early, because of chronic overcrowding".

George Kinsella, Ben’s father, is reported as saying "If you murder someone with a gun, the starting tariff is 30 years. But if you do it with a knife, it's 15 years.  What's the difference?"

Mrs Kinsella, participating in a programme for the BBC, told the programme that she believed knife crime sentencing was "too complacent". Sounds familiar!

What is worrying is the recent announcement that the number of knife deaths in areas targeted by an anti-knife crime scheme has risen, according to the Home Office.

The government's Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) started last July in 10 police areas in England and Wales following a series of high-profile teenage stabbings.

In its first nine months, we are told that 126 people died after being attacked with a knife or other sharp object - this is seven more than in the same period the previous year.

Overall knife-related violence has fallen by 10%, but the number of deaths among teenagers remains unchanged. Is the programme making any difference?  Well this is what they say-

Warwickshire Chief Constable Keith Bristow, who leads TKAP, said "It's a mixed picture in the sense that in some places there have been some increases but overall it's going in the right direction.  This is a long journey. Success when you're dealing with these sort of problems might be measured in generations, not weeks or months."

The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, also thinks its early days, he said, "The fact that a stabbing leads to the tragedy of a death is nothing to do with the perpetrator of the stabbing, its to do with how quickly the health service got to them, etc.  The number of stabbings being down overall is encouraging and that's what we're looking for at this stage just one year in. We're not saying this programme's completed. We're saying there's a long way to go yet but there are encouraging signs."

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has spoken about tougher penalties that had been introduced for knife crime and it has been made clear that anyone aged 16 or over should be prosecuted for a first offence.  "This tough stance is already having a positive impact - latest figures show that more people are going to jail, and for longer, when caught carrying a knife."

But what do the families think?  Colin Knox, whose 18-year-old son Robert was fatally stabbed in south-east London last year, said the government's knife crime strategy lacked deterrence. Mr Knox says  "We need to send a strong message to the knife carrier - if you carry a knife you will get a custodial sentence, as a minimum of six months."

This is clearly at odds with some academics Professor Marian Fitzgerald, for example, a criminologist at Kent University, said the government was putting too much emphasis on knife carrying instead of knife crime. This goes against Colin Knox's view that strong signals should be sent to knife carriers.




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