Appeal court frees mother who was jailed for lying

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The Independent Online
Patricia Whitehead, the mother of three jailed for two months on Friday for lying to police after her husband was involved in a car accident, was freed by the Court of Appeal yesterday. Less than an hour later her husband was refused leave to appeal against his four-month sentence.

Mrs Whitehead, 32, leader of a Hampshire village cub pack, remained composed throughout the hearing but began to cry when Lord Justice Swinton- Thomas said her sentence would be commuted to 50 hours' community service. When he asked her if she was willing to accept the revised sentence Mrs Whitehead, who spent the weekend in Holloway jail, gulped: "Yes, please. Thank you." The judge replied: "You are welcome."

The judge accepted that Mrs Whitehead, who had no previous convictions, was of "impeccable" character but said it was her sons, Alexander, five, Christian, seven, and Ian, nine, who made the court alter a "finely balanced" judgment. "The courts are always very reluctant to send the mother of young children to prison, although sometimes it is unavoidable," he said. "In this case there are other options open to the court. Clearly it is desirable that a mother should be permitted, if at all possible, to look after her children."

Outside the court, Mrs Whitehead, clinging to her father-in-law, Archie, 75, said: "I just want to go home to my children." She added that she was concerned about her husband, David, 47, a Sunday school teacher, jailed for four months for lying about the same incident. He, too, has no previous convictions.

Mrs Whitehead returned to the home of her mother and father-in-law, in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight at 9.15pm. There were shrieks of delight at the door of the bungalow as she was reunited with her three sons.

Her father-in-law thanked the media on her behalf, but added: "The quicker we can get her husband out or something done about him the better. She has not slept for three nights because of the trauma of this terrible injustice."

Mrs and Mr Whitehead were jailed by Mr Justice Ian Kennedy for attempting to pervert the course of justice. They admitted falsely claiming that Mrs Whitehead had been driving when their car was involved in a collision with a motorcyclist. She had in fact been at home.

Ben Compton, counsel for Mrs Whitehead, said the couple had been in "dire financial difficulties" after buying their home and adjoining off-licence in Brockenhurst, Hampshire. Mr Whitehead had taken a job as a computer consultant in London to boost their income and was worried he would lose his driving licence. Mrs Whitehead had been drawn into his deception by a "misguided sense of loyalty".

The judge criticised press coverage of the case. He said the accident had not been "minor", as reported. The motorcyclist had gone to hospital with an injured ankle, suffering from shock. He said the lie was no momentary lapse. It had taken the couple 11 days to confess the truth to police after they were warned that witnesses contradicted their story. Mr Whitehead's parents, sister and friends had all lied about the accident.

Penal reformers claim that the Whiteheads' case highlights the over- use of custodial sentences. The Howard League says there are tens of thousands in prison for minor offences who should not be there. Mr Whitehead's lawyers plan to renew his appeal next week.

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