[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 7:19 pm, 15th March 2021

It is a privilege to be called so early in this extremely important debate. As always, it is a pleasure to follow Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, although I am a little puzzled, because most of the amendments to the Bill to make it better that she talked about would not be possible if, thanks to the power of her rhetoric, she persuaded the House to vote against Second Reading, since there would be no Committee stage in which to do that. I suspect that, even though she will go through the No Lobby, she actually hopes that the Bill will go into Committee.

I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor on this outstandingly good Bill designed to make us all safer in so many different ways, but I want to focus on one small aspect of the Bill: the sentencing of minors in clauses 101 to 105. The Home Secretary knows well the case of my constituent Ellie Gould, and she kindly saw the Gould parents on one occasion. Ellie Gould was brutally murdered in her own home by 17-year-old Thomas Griffiths in May 2019. It was the most horrible murder of the worst kind, with a knife found at the scene of the crime.

Griffiths’ 12 and a half-year sentence was shorter than it should have been for three reasons: first, because he pled guilty, and I am glad that he did; secondly, because he was a junior at the time of the offence, albeit he was 18 at the time he was convicted; and thirdly, because, rather than taking a knife with him to the murder, he picked one up in the kitchen. He none the less stabbed Ellie multiple times using that knife and then sought to pretend that Ellie had done it to herself. It was very much a premeditated crime—there is no question about it—but because he did not bring a knife to the scene, he only got 12 and a half years, rather than the significantly longer sentence he would have got otherwise.

I pay tribute to Ellie’s parents, Matt and Carole Gould, and a group of her school friends, who have been tireless in fighting to change the law in respect of a brutal crime of this kind. I thank the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary for having listened carefully to them. Under clause 101, a 17-year-old who turns 18 during the course of the trial, as happened in this case, will now face a similar penalty to the one they would face if they had been 18 at the time of the crime. Until now, a 17-year-old was treated much the same as a 10-year-old, and of course, they are very different people. A sliding scale will now be introduced, so that a 17-year-old will be pretty much treated as an adult. That would have increased Thomas Griffiths’ sentence to 14 years. We also welcome the ending of the automatic review halfway through the sentence, which, apart from anything else, causes huge stress and trauma to the victim’s family.

However, the Bill does not address the third anomaly, which is that had Griffiths brought the knife to the scene rather than pick it up in the kitchen, his sentence would have more than doubled—he would have got up to 27 years, rather than 12 and a half. Surely a frenzied attack of this kind, whether it is done with the knife that someone brings with them or a knife that they find in the kitchen, deserves the fullest possible sentence in the law.

There is an argument that women who are victims of domestic abuse may carry out a murder in self-defence using a knife at home. Surely the criminal law could find a way of saying that murder in self-defence under those conditions is quite different from a brutal murder such as that of Ellie Gould. The Lord Chancellor has said that he will consider this matter further, probably outside the context of the Bill. None the less, I hope that such a differentiation will be made possible in the near future, because this is a very important matter, and it touches on the tragic case of Sarah Everard.

Nothing can bring Ellie Gould back. Nothing can assuage the grief of her parents. Incidentally, nothing can assuage the grief of Thomas Griffiths’ parents, who are also my constituents; they have lost their son in a very real way too. But strengthening the sentencing regime, as the Bill does, will at least mean some lasting legacy. It is, indeed, Ellie’s law.