Defendant harassing actress and breaching interim restraining order – Defendant appealing – Whether sentence manifestly excessive

R v Rumbelow: Court of Appeal, Criminal Division (Lord Justice Rafferty, Globe and Mr Justice Leggatt): 18 December 2012

The defendant had a long-standing obsession with the complainant, R, an actress in the BBC television series Holby City. The defendant became infatuated with the show and attended the studios to have her picture taken with R. In early 2011, the defendant started harassing R. She spread a false rumour that R was having an affair with a co-star; and she used the email and Twitter accounts of a man she had fallen out with to send messages to R's email address and the Twitter account of her sister, threatening that R was going to be raped. The threats were taken seriously and complaints were made to the police.

The man with whom the defendant had fallen out and whose account she had used was interviewed under caution by the police. The defendant was given a harassment warning by the police. She ignored the warning and continued to use one of the social networking sites to harass R. She was arrested and given a further warning. Over the following weeks, the defendant continued to try and contact R, her sister and her husband via email and social networking sites. The defendant turned up at the television studios where R was being filmed. The defendant was arrested and charged with harassment.

An interim restraining order was imposed. The defendant breached the restraining order on a number of occasions. She subsequently changed her plea to guilty to harassment and she pleaded guilty to two breaches of the restraining order. A psychiatric report stated that the risk posed by the defendant was very low. The probation assessment was also that the defendant posed a low risk of re-conviction, with a medium risk of harm to R. The defendant, then aged 21 and of previous good character, was sentenced to a total of two-and-a-half years' imprisonment, made up of 12 months' imprisonment for an offence of harassment, 18 months consecutive for breach of an interim restraining order, and six months concurrent for another breach of the same order.

In sentencing the defendant, the judge had acknowledged that she had had difficulties arising from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, which explained why she had offended. However, in his view, it had not reduced the defendant's responsibility for what she had done. The defendant appealed against sentence. She submitted that the sentence was manifestly excessive and wrong in principle for a 21-year-old female with no previous convictions who had an acknowledged need for medical treatment.

At the hearing of the appeal, the defendant had been in custody for a total of just under 11 months. A supplemental pre-sentence report, which had not been available at the sentencing, recommended a community order together with supervision and mental health treatment requirements, namely: a supervision requirement for 12 months and a mental health treatment requirement for 12 months. Consideration was given to the guidelines of the Sentencing Guidelines Council (the guidelines). The appeal would be allowed in part.

The guidelines in relation to cases involving breach of a protective order stated that even in cases where there has been no violent conduct in the breaches of an order, the case might cross the custody threshold where a high degree of harm and anxiety had been caused to the victim. However, the guideline also referred to circumstances where the court was satisfied that an offender intended to reform his or her behaviour, and where there was a real prospect of rehabilitation, the court might consider it appropriate to impose a sentence that would allow that to happen (see [23] of the judgment).

On the facts, the sentence that had been imposed, although understandable, had to be regarded as being manifestly excessive. A community order with the additional requirements requested should be substituted. The indefinite restraining order that was made at the time of sentence would remain in force in the same terms (see [24] of the judgment). R v Liddle, R v Hayes [1999] 3 All ER 816 considered.

A Radley (assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the defendant.