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Knife killer jailed for life

A knife killer was jailed for life today in what is thought to be the first case to be dealt with under tough new sentencing powers.

Daniel Smith, 23, was told he must serve at least 20 years in prison for stabbing 26-year-old tourist Kelvin Francis in the neck outside a fish and chip shop in Walthamstow, east London.

Smith attacked Mr Francis on March 7, five days after the minimum term starting point for a knife murder was raised from 15 to 25 years.

The new powers were introduced following an outcry over a series of stabbings, led by the family of Ben Kinsella, a 16-year-old killed in north London in 2008.

Judges must decide when sentencing murderers - who automatically receive life terms - on the minimum period they must spend behind bars before they can be released on licence if a parole board sees fit.

The starting point of 15 years can be increased by aggravating features or reduced by mitigating features, in individual cases.

The tariff was raised to 25 years for murders involving a knife by then Justice Secretary Jack Straw, with the new law coming into effect on March 2.

There is already a 30-year starting point for murders involving firearms, or those committed for gain or with a sexual motive.

Smith stabbed Mr Francis, who was visiting Britain from Grenada, in a row over £50 and a BlackBerry.

The defendant, who is also from the Caribbean island, was found guilty of murder by a unanimous jury verdict today.

Judge Richard Hone said the weapon he used was a "frightening object".

He told Smith: "This was a very sad case. The prime aggravating feature, reflected in the recent change in the law, is the carrying of the knife with the intention to do violence. That knife is a particularly vicious weapon.

"The minimum term specified by Parliament recently is one of 25 years."

The judge said he could reduce the tariff to 20 years because of the defendant's young age, his previous good character and "some form of remorse".

Smith had tried to delay the trial by falling out of bed in prison and pretending to be unable to speak.

He refused to come to court until a letter was sent explaining that the proceedings would go ahead without him.

Smith promptly turned up but as the case was about to be opened - and to the surprise of his own defence counsel - he announced: "I'd like to plead guilty."

But the judge gave him time to reconsider and he changed his mind overnight, later sacking his legal team, describing them as "very much incompetent".

The victim's father Elvin Francis, who had flown over from Grenada, was kept waiting as the trial was delayed by more than a week from its original start date.

Mr Francis was in court today to see his son's killer sentenced, and said in a victim impact statement: "Myself, my wife and our other children are totally devastated by his loss."