General sentencing issues

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterIn court
General sentencing issues
Terminally ill fraudster mother
Employed as an accounts clerk for a family-owned business, N. had rapidly been
required to hold full financial responsibility for the company’s bank and internal
accounts. Over a six-year period, she raised numerous false invoices for products
that had not been purchased and work that had not been done, paying company
funds into two bank accounts in her name, thus acquiring over GBP£565,000. In
consequence, the company had suffered significant financial difficulties and had
had to make a number of staff redundant. Aged in her late 40s, married with two
children aged 10 and 12, she had no previous criminal history. Shortly before her
fraud came to light and she was dismissed, she had been diagnosed with stage 4
bowel cancer. At the time of sentencing following her guilty plea, she had under-
gone surgery to fit a stoma bag and was undergoing palliative chemotherapy; her
prognosis indicated life expectancy of 18–24 months if she persevered with
Having regard to the relevant Sentencing Guideline, the judge determined that
N.’s offending would merit a term of five years after contested trial. Credit for plea
reduced that term to 40 months. Noting that terminal illness was usually a matter for
the Secretary of State to determine, using powers to order compassionate early
release, the judge opted to reduce her sentence to three years to reflect that factor.
On her appeal against sentence, the Court of Appeal was informed that her life
expectancy was now estimated as 12–15 months. However, treatment was sup-
pressing her immune system and, in a prison environment, she was at increased risk
of life-threatening infections. To reduce the risk of infection, she had been allocated
a single room with a personal lavatory but on a unit for prisoners with personality
disorders. She was permitted additional compassionate visits from her husband and
family. It was argued on her behalf that the term had been manifestly excessive,
having regard to self-evident mitigation including the effect of sentence upon her
Having regard to her high level of culpability and the harm caused, including the
serious detrimental effect on the business, the Court observed that the starting point
was seven years’ imprisonment after the trial with a range between five and eight
years. Though the judge had not made express reference to N.’s remorse (which the
PSR author had considered genuine) nor to the effect of imprisonment upon her
children, the Court was confident that these considerations had been factored into
the Crown Court’s approach. Having reviewed previous judgements governing the
proper impact on sentence of life-threatening illness (principally Bernard (1997)),
the Court concluded that though there could be no principled criticism of the
approach taken here, it was ‘just persuaded’ that, as an act of mercy, the term
should remain ‘immediate’ rather than suspended to reflect the serious nature of her
crime but reduced to 18 months.
R v NEWSOME, [2019] 2 Cr App R(S) 49.
80 Probation Journal 67(1)

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