Defendant pleading guilty to attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered – Defendant being sentenced to two years’ imprisonment – Defendant appealing

R v Humphries: Court of Appeal, Criminal Division: 18 September 2013

The defendant and the victim had been best friends but their friendship deteriorated after the victim had accused the defendant of driving whilst intoxicated at a time when the defendant and the victim were both in the same vehicle. The victim was due to get married. The day of the wedding, the defendant had sent messages through Facebook and mobile phone in an attempt to ruin the wedding day. The defendant also attended the victim’s house and the church where the wedding was being held with the same intention.

Later that day, whilst the wedding ceremony was taking place, the victim’s stepson went back to the victim’s home. Once inside the home, he found pieces of slightly burnt paper behind the front door as well as burnt out matches. By the time that discovery was reported to the police the defendant was already in police custody following her arrest for driving whilst intoxicated that same day. During the course of two interviews, the defendant denied any involvement with the incident at the victim’s home.

However, the defendant’s fingerprints were found on the burnt papers and her name and address were also found on some of those pieces of paper. Moreover, CCTV footage showed the defendant on the street where the victim’s home was located around the time the incident had taken place. The defendant was charged with one count of attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, pursuant to section 1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.

In January 2013, the defendant saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as suffering from chronic adjustment disorder and assessed her offending as not being a result of her mental issues but as a result of anger and alcohol. In May, a pre-sentence report (PSR) was prepared ahead of the defendant’s sentencing. The PSR recommended a custodial sentence. The judge, when sentencing, focused on the defendant’s behaviour on the relevant day and described it as spiteful and destructive. The defendant was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

On 1 September 2013, and prior to the present hearing, the defendant was seen by another probation officer who prepared a report which stated, amongst other things, that: (i) although the defendant was remorseful, she had failed to appreciate the potential devastating consequences of her actions; (ii) the defendant was a low risk of re-offending but of medium risk of causing serious harm to others unless she received assistance for her alcohol problem, anger management and dealing with grievances; and (iii) a community sentence would not be appropriate (the second probation report).

On 17 September 2013, yet another report by a third probation officer was prepared in which it stated, amongst other things, that, contrary to the second probation report, an alternative to an immediate custodial sentence could be considered as long as certain conditions were met (the third probation report). The risk of the defendant causing serious harm within the community remained high. However, the third probation report stated that the level of risk depended on whether the defendant attended and successfully completed courses that dealt with her changing her attitude.

During her custody, the defendant had attended numerous courses including a cognitive behaviour course and an understanding behaviour course. She received a letter from the tutor of the understanding behaviour course which described her as model student

It fell to be determined with all the present information available, whether the sentence imposed was manifestly excessive. The appeal would be allowed.

Although the defendant’s actions had been dangerous, her attempts at starting a fire were crude. Undoubtedly, the defendant had mental health issues and those are a long-standing problem for her. She has family responsibilities and until the present offence had been of previous good character. The judge had approached the sentencing in an entirely conspicuous manner. However, the overall effect of the mitigating features particular to the defendant and the third probation report required a reduction in the sentence imposed.

The sentence would be quashed and substituted with a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment.

Huw Evans (instructed by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the defendant.