Sam Pybus: Court of Appeal refuses to increase sentence of man who choked woman to death in sex

Pybus admitted manslaughter of Sophie Moss after exerting ‘prolonged’ pressure to vulnerable 33-year-old’s neck

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Friday 12 November 2021 13:11
<p>Three judges declined Attorney General Suella Braverman’s attempt to have Pybus’s sentence raised at the Court of Appeal</p>

Three judges declined Attorney General Suella Braverman’s attempt to have Pybus’s sentence raised at the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has refused to increase the sentence of a man recently jailed for less than five years for choking his lover to death during sex.

Three judges declined attorney general Suella Braverman’s attempt to have Sam Pybus’ sentence for killing Sophie Moss lengthened on Friday.

Pybus admitted the manslaughter of Moss after exerting “prolonged” pressure to the vulnerable 33-year-old’s neck at her home in Darlington in County Durham in the early hours in February.

Sentencing judge Paul Watson accepted the married defendant did not intend to kill Moss, who has two young children, and his remorse was genuine, as he jailed Pybus for four years and eight months in September.

Teesside Crown Court previously heard Pybus, who will only have to serve half his sentence in prison, employed pressure to Moss’ neck for tens of seconds or minutes while having consensual sex on 7 February.

The decision to hand Pybus a sentence of less than half a decade in jail sparked a backlash among politicians and campaigners, who said it sent a message that women’s lives do not matter.

MPs told The Independent the sentence was a “travesty of justice,” noting the maximum sentence for stealing pets was longer than the term handed to Pybus.

Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who chairs parliament’s joint committee on human rights, wrote to the attorney general in September to object to the “unduly lenient” sentence and call for the case to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

But speaking on Friday, Lady Justice Macur, sitting with Lady Justice Carr and Mr Justice Murray, said: “Bearing all the circumstances of this case in mind, we are not persuaded that the judge was wrong in categorisation, was wrong in the uplift he applied ... or was wrong in the element of discount that he gave for mitigation and then for his plea of guilty.”

“This could not be clearer case to show that the law - what it says and how it works - must change.”

Fiona Mackenzie

Pybus’ wife previously told The Independent the “rough sex defence” trivialised violence against women in an extensive interview. She claimed her husband subjected her to emotional abuse and sexual violence during their relationship.

Fiona Mackenzie, spokesperson for We Can’t Consent To This, an organisation that has done extensive research into the ‘rough sex’ defence and campaigned to change the law on this, said: “This was a desperately serious and sustained assault, of a vulnerable woman, by an intimate partner.

“We were horrified to see the court accept Pybus’ claim that Sophie had consented, and was a willing participant, in what Lady Macur called a ‘risky sexual practice’, despite this never being tested in court.

“This could not be clearer case to show that the law - what it says and how it works - must change. Sophie Moss deserves better, and parliament must return to this.”

Pybus told police Moss would encourage him to strangle her during sex, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Harriet Wistrich, an award-winning human rights lawyer who is director of the Centre for Women's Justice, said: “Unfortunately the attorney general was bound to accept the case as presented by the prosecutor in the lower court and in particular that Sophie Moss ‘enjoyed asphyxiation’.

“This is a form of victim blaming, suggesting that she was partly culpable for her own death. The evidence is based on the account given by the perpetrator and by one other man who also used her for sex and contradicted by her longer-term ex-partner and father of her children. The deceased of course could not give her own account.”

Christopher Atkinson, a senior district crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the North East, previously 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.”

Ms Moss’ death comes after the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence was outlawed in the UK at the end of April via the domestic abuse act – with campaigners celebrating the decision to tackle the rising number of killers claiming women died during rough sex in court proceedings.

Increasing numbers of women are being seriously injured and killed in incidents dubbed “sex games gone wrong”. In 1996, two women were killed or injured during what the defendants referred to as “consensual rough sex”, but this figure had risen to 20 women by 2016.

Additional reporting by wires

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