Orders of the Day — Crown Prosecution Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:49 pm on 12th January 1995.

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Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion 7:49 pm, 12th January 1995

I fear that the hon. Lady is quite wrong about that. I have told her that there was virtually nothing more to be heard because Card did not intend to go into the witness box.

When the judge sentenced the two defendants he set out most clearly, as prosecuting counsel had done when he accepted the pleas, the basis upon which he was sentencing them. First, he said that the two defendants had formed a plan to teach Keen a lesson for getting involved with Card's ex-girlfriend. Keen was lured to Oliver's house on the pretext of taking part in some form of joke or dare. He was there doused with turpentine and frightened or the defendants intended to injure him in a minor way by using a flame.

With the greatest respect, the hon. Lady, who was not present in court, or anybody else who was not there, cannot second-guess the judge who heard all the evidence. Secondly, the judge concluded that Oliver was more involved in planning the event and that to prevent the deceased from chickening out, he offered to sit with the deceased while Card poured turpentine on both of them. Card then set alight the deceased's clothing. What is more, he also set Oliver alight and Oliver sustained some burns.

Thirdly, the judge found as a fact that both the offenders had much to drink and neither of them foresaw that the deceased would become a ball of flame or that his clothes were so combustible. Fourthly, and more importantly because it is crucial to the sentence which the judge subsequently passed, neither of the offenders had any intention of causing really serious injury to the deceased who was still their friend. Oliver attempted to extinguish the flames and Card's inactivity was a result of shock, not malice.

In view of those findings by the judge, it is quite wrong to view this case as one of murder and to invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to refer it to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the facts were other than the judge had found. In the circumstances which I have explained the prosecution accepted the plea to manslaughter. At the risk of becoming tedious, I repeat that it is not unusual for a trial judge who has formed such a clear view of the facts to indicate that view and it is wholly appropriate for the Crown to take notice.

The sentences of eight years for Oliver and six years for Card were within the range of sentences for offences of manslaughter. They were not light or derisory sentences, far from it. In my view, justice was dispensed in law and in fact.