Leading Article: A sentence that raises public anger

Share
Related Topics
ANYONE who repeatedly attacked an adult over a period of six weeks, causing 23 fractures, would expect to go to prison if caught. To inflict the same damage on a baby would normally be regarded as worse. Yet Patrick Weighell, who battered his own son in this way, was put on probation for 18 months and ordered to attend an anger management course. The leniency of Judge Robert Pryor has provoked a strong public reaction.

In Judge Pryor's defence it is suggested that he must have found strong mitigating factors in the papers that were in front of him when he passed sentence on Monday. For instance, Mr Weighell is reported to be remorseful and is no longer living at home with the baby, so the chances of his repeating the offence with this particular child seem low.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine anything that would justify conveying the impression that Mr Weighell's behaviour was in some way understandable on the grounds that, as is commonly known, babies can be frustrating. Nor is it right to treat the offence as being of a lesser order than other forms of cruelty to children. Even granted that the punitive element in sentencing is suspect, its total absence in this case goes too much against the grain of public feeling and conveys dubious messages on personal responsibility and public safety.

From 1 March, unless the Commons objects, it will be possible to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal in cases of cruelty and neglect towards children, indecent assault and threats to kill. This extension of existing provisions will not be retroactive, so will not apply to the Weighell case. Nor will it wholly solve problems that arise from eccentric sentencing. One much-needed reform would be to increase the frequency of refresher courses for judges, who now are required to undergo only a week of retraining every five years.

In the meantime attention will be drawn to anger management courses. They form part of a trend that has developed over the past few years to confront offenders in addictive areas such as sex, drugs, alcohol and violence with responsiblity for their actions, stripping away self- justifying myths and helping them to change their behaviour.

The techniques are too new to have built up solid evidence on their effectiveness, but they look promising. They are used in prisons as well as by the probation service, so they are not an alternative to custody. Last year 191 prison staff were trained. This is far too few, but had Mr Weighell been jailed, one of them could surely have found time for him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week