Judge defends probation sentence

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The Independent Online
A JUDGE at the Old Bailey took the rare step of recalling his court yesterday to defend his decision not to send to prison a schizophrenic mugger who killed an old man.

Relatives of the victim, William Hoarsley, 83, who was killed while he was feeding pigeons, were outraged yesterday when Judge Henry Pownall QC apologised to Paul Gordon, 26, for bringing him back to court again, three days after sentencing him to three years' probation for manslaughter.

Gordon, who had been released from hospital under the care in the community programme, committed the crime after stopping taking drugs that controlled his mental illness.

The police said they would be asking the Crown Prosecution Service to recommend to the Attorney General that he use his powers to review the case.

The case had been heard originally by Judge Brian Smedley, but he was not available last Friday to pass sentence, so it was added to the list of Judge Pownall, who already had 17 cases to deal with in the day. Normally when a case returns to court for sentencing, a prosecution counsel will briefly outline the facts of the earlier proceedings. In the absence of a prosecution counsel, Judge Pownall heard a resume instead from the defence counsel.

Yesterday, he pointed out that he had passed sentence after reading all the papers in the case files. He said media coverage of the case had been misleading.

He outlined again the facts of the case. Mr Hoarsley had withdrawn pounds 50 from a post office near his home in New Cross, south-east London, and had then been attacked while feeding pigeons, 'perhaps by a push, perhaps a bit more'. Gordon had run off with the money, and had been recognised by witnesses as he escaped.

The attack had not been of sufficient force in normal circumstances to kill a man, but Mr Hoarsley had been frail, with a heart condition, and had died from a heart attack within four minutes after falling backwards over a wall and knocking his head. The pathologist had said the death was a result of the attack, but there had been no intention to kill by Gordon.

'He could have collapsed at any time,' the judge said.

He said he had been aware when passing sentence that Gordon had previous convictions, a street robbery 11 years ago and a theft nine years ago. Gordon had been suffering from schizophrenia, and had responded well to treatment, but had re-offended when not taking medication. 'On medication, there had been no offences. Off medication he had been really very ill.'

He had spent nine months in custody before the sentence, and doctors and probation officers who had monitored him were convinced he had shown '100 per cent remorse'.

Doctors had advised that the correct sentence was probation rather than compulsory detention under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act.

He will spend the first part of his probation order as an in-patient, then be released into the community if he responds to treatment.