Attorney General reviewing length of jail term of man who strangled woman during sex

Campaigners said sentence sends a ‘dreadful message to women’

Joe Middleton
Wednesday 08 September 2021 22:58
<p>Sophie Moss was found naked and unconscious by police officers  </p>

Sophie Moss was found naked and unconscious by police officers

The Attorney General is considering whether to appeal against a jail term of less than five years handed to a man who choked his lover to death during sex.

Sam Pybus, 32, was sentenced to four years and eight months for killing Sophie Moss, prompting fury from women’s rights campaigners.

A court heard Pybus applied “prolonged” pressure to Moss’s neck during consensual sex at her home in Darlington in the early hours of 7 February.

The mother-of-two was found unconscious and naked by police officers in her bed, and later died in hospital.

Pybus - who was married, but had been seeing Miss Moss for three years - told the court his occasional lover would encourage him to strangle her during sex.

The court heard that Moss lived alone and had a history of alcohol misuse, and had physical and mental health problems.

Judge Paul Watson QC, sentencing him at Teesside Crown Court, accepted the married defendant did not intend to kill and his remorse was genuine. He had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

We Can’t Consent To This, a campaign group set up in response to the “rough sex” defence claims used against women, said the sentence sends a “dreadful message to women”.

Sam Pybus has been jailed for four years and eight months

Spokesperson Fiona Mackenzie said: “It seems that strangling a woman to death is still viewed in law as an unfortunate accident, rather than terrible serious violence.

“This sends a dreadful message to women - four years and eight months is an outrageous sentence for killing a woman.”

Ms Mackenzie added that this year “strangulation was made a specific offence” and that the government was clear that “claims of rough sex must not be used by perpetrators to evade justice”.

Labour grandee Harriet Harman confirmed on Twitter she has referred the case to the Attorney General to be reviewed as unduly lenient.

Ms Harman has written to the Attorney General Michael Ellis QC to apply for the Court of Appeal under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme.

She said: "This sentence fails to reflect the gravity of the crime, the impact of her death on her family including her two young children, his sole culpability for her death, his cynical shifting of the responsibility from himself to her and sends out the message that killing your girlfriend during sex is a minor matter."

A spokesperson for the Attorney General‘s Office said: “We have received a request for the case of Sam Pybus to be considered under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme.

“Only one request is required for us to review whether a sentence is too low.

“The Law Officers have 28 days from sentencing to consider the case and make a decision on whether to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal.”

Pybus was originally charged with murder but the court heard a Home Office pathologist found that the amount of pressure applied to the vulnerable mother-of-two’s neck was towards the lower end of cases which resulted in death.

The pressure could have been applied for tens of seconds or even minutes, the court heard. There was no sign of any other violence used or evidence of a fight.

On the day in question Pybus had drunk 24 bottles of Amstel lager over 10 hours, and after his wife went to bed he drove round to the 33-year-old’s flat.

At 4.43am on February 7 he then drove to Darlington police station and told staff he believed he had strangled Moss in her flat.

He told detectives that during their casual sexual activity, he would apply pressure to her neck, “an act he said she encouraged and enjoyed”, the court heard.

Pybus, of Water View, Middleton St George, Darlington, told police he could only recall coming around in his boxer shorts and finding her unconscious. He told detectives that “he must have strangled her but couldn’t remember doing so”.

The defendant had not rendered first aid and instead went to his car and thought about what to do for 15 minutes before driving to the police station.

Detectives made extensive inquiries and found no evidence of an argument or any reason for Pybus to harm Ms Moss, the prosecution said.

The claim that she encouraged strangulation during sex was backed up by her long-term partner, the court heard.

Her brother James Moss, of behalf of the family, made a victim statement, saying: “She was joyous, vibrant, funny, talented and fearless, unless she saw a spider.”

Sam Green QC, defending, said during meetings Pybus did not feel self-pity “but emotions of self-disgust and the difficulties of living with that he had done”.

After the hearing, Christopher Atkinson, of CPS North East, said: “While the defendant has always acknowledged the fatal consequences of his actions, he also claimed that it was never his intent to cause Sophie serious harm or, as was tragically the case, her death.

“We must make it very clear that the Crown Prosecution Service has not simply accepted the account put forward by the defendant, but that we have proactively determined that there was insufficient evidence capable of establishing beyond reasonable doubt that he intended the serious harm or death of Sophie Moss.

“In cases where death is caused by an unlawful act, but such intent cannot be proven, the appropriate charge to bring is one of manslaughter, for which we have built a robust case against the defendant.”

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