Attorney general asks for longer prison term for ‘hate crime’ killer


theweek-whiteCampaigners have welcomed the attorney general’s decision to ask the court of appeal to lengthen the prison sentence given to a man who killed a disabled, gay teenager in an apparent hate crime.

Steven Simpson was celebrating his 18th birthday in his flat last June when he was doused in tanning oil by one guest and then set alight by another party-goer, Jordan Sheard. He died in hospital as a result of the “significant” burns he received in the attack.

Sheffield Crown Court heard last month that Simpson had been the victim of disablist and homophobic abuse during the party in Cudworth, near Barnsley.

Sheard, aged 20, and also from Cudworth, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but was sentenced to only three years and six months by Judge Roger Keen.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had treated Simpson’s death as a disability hate crime, but the judge failed to grant a sentence “uplift” under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

It is the latest in a series of cases in which judges have been criticised for failing to increase sentences for crimes apparently motivated by disablist hostility.

The Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve, had received a flood of requests to appeal Sheard’s sentence.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said: “Having carefully reviewed the case, the attorney general has decided to refer the sentence to the court of appeal for review.”

It is likely to take five or six weeks before the appeal is heard.

Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, one of the organisations which complained to the attorney general about the sentence, welcomed Grieve’s.

He said: “When we all heard of the sentence of just three-and-a-half years in prison for the perpetrator of the grotesque, demeaning and eventually fatal act committed on Steven Simpson it was clear that all of us who are fighting for meaningful justice for disabled people needed to make a stand and seek a more appropriate outcome.

“I am delighted that all our combined pressure has earned a speedy response from the attorney general, and we ask that the court of appeal does review the case in terms of section 146 which should have been implemented and in light of the extreme seriousness with which disabled people view this matter.”

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: “Sentencing is a matter for the courts and issues of sentencing referrals are a matter for the attorney general.”

Last month, a report by the constabulary, Crown Prosecution Service and probation inspectorates, Living in a Different World, found that just seven out of 810 cases that had been “flagged” as disability hate crimes by the CPS ended with magistrates or judges increasing the sentence under section 146.

25 April 2013