Proposed law seeks 12-year minimum jail term for sexually motivated manslaughter

Conservative MP Laura Farris wants the Sentencing Code amended amid concerns the law does not adequately punish such crimes.

Sam Pybus, who was jailed after he admitted to the manslaughter of Sophie Moss, who he choked during consensual sex at her home in Darlington (Durham Police/PA)
Sam Pybus, who was jailed after he admitted to the manslaughter of Sophie Moss, who he choked during consensual sex at her home in Darlington (Durham Police/PA)

Offenders responsible for sexually motivated manslaughter would face longer prison sentences under a proposed law tabled in Parliament.

Ministers are being asked to support a minimum jail term of 12 years for cases of manslaughter where there was an “evident risk of serious harm” and the purpose of it was sexual gratification.

Conservative MP Laura Farris has developed the plans to amend the Sentencing Code amid concerns the law does not adequately punish such crimes.

Recent cases have involved the deaths of women in “really grim and often very violent circumstances” which resulted in “derisory” prison sentences of no more than six years, Ms Farris said.

Conservative MP Laura Farris
Conservative MP Laura Farris (PA)

The MP for Newbury, in her proposal to the Ministry of Justice, says the crimes are on the rise because of “violent online pornography, which has increased degrading sexual practices of which young women are the principal victims”.

Ms Farris, speaking about her Sexually Motivated Manslaughter (Sentencing) Bill, told the PA news agency: “In all those cases, the defendant has been convicted of manslaughter and received a sentence of six years or less because it has been determined to be a category C case for sentencing purposes – that they didn’t mean to cause serious harm.

“So people are getting derisory sentences for acts many people would think were very close to murder anyway, but because they had that sort of sexual context, they tend not to be prosecuted that way.”

Ms Farris highlighted the case of Sam Pybus, who was jailed for four years and eight months last September after choking his lover to death during sex.

He applied “prolonged” pressure to Sophie Moss’s neck at her home in Darlington.

Pybus admitted manslaughter and the sentencing judge accepted the defendant did not intend to kill Ms Moss.

An appeal to increase his sentence was rejected.

Ms Farris said: “Something has gone wrong in the criminal law.

Sophie Moss, who was killed by Sam Pybus when he choked her during consensual sex at her home in Darlington
Sophie Moss, who was killed by Sam Pybus when he choked her during consensual sex at her home in Darlington (Durham Police/PA)

“I found some older cases which preceded the current sentencing guidelines and there was the case of James Morton.

“In that 2016 case, the judge said she considered the mandatory starting point – it was a fatal strangulation case, it was a 16-year-old girl the perpetrator had met that night in a nightclub – was 12 years and she gave him 12 years.

“Something has gone wrong since the sentencing guidelines came in that is not fully capturing these cases.”

Ms Farris said the law means it is currently possible to be jailed for longer for not killing somebody through strangulation.

She explained: “We’ve got this crazy situation now where the Government introduced clause 70 of the Domestic Abuse Act, which came into effect about a week ago, which creates a maximum sentence of five years for non-fatal strangulation.

“But you will probably have noted in the Sam Pybus case he got four and a half years, but he did kill her.

“So the law, as it currently exists, allows for a greater sentence for not killing somebody through strangulation in a sexual context than killing them. I think everybody would agree there’s something going wrong.”

Ms Farris added on her proposals: “It does go to the heart of the violence against women work, and the fact some degree of violence in sex has become normalised, I think particularly for young people, but it’s something that’s increasingly the experience of young women.

“I think it’s really important that Parliament sends out a clear message about how it views that, how serious it is, particularly if you kill someone – even if you’re convicted of manslaughter and not murder, which takes you into a different category altogether – that it creates a minimum sentence.”

Ms Farris said the Bill would allow for an offender to be able to demonstrate “exceptional circumstances” to ensure they do not receive 12 years in prison, adding it would be developed through case law.

Ms Farris has asked for the Bill to receive a second reading on November 25, although it faces a battle to secure parliamentary time and progress through all necessary stages.

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