Monday, 8 December 2014

Was this entirely right? A mother's dilemma.

There will not be too much public sympathy for Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed who were recently sentenced to a custodial term of 12 years 8 months for Preparation of Terrorist acts - Terrorism Act 2006 section 5.  Under this extended sentence (Criminal Justice Act 2003 section 226A*) there is a custodial term and, thereafter, an extension period during which time the offender is on licence.  The extension period here is 5 years.  One aspect of an extended sentence is that the the court must 'consider that there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further specified offences.'

I have not been able to find publication of the sentencing remarks of His Honour Judge Topolski QC who sentenced the men at the Crown Court sitting at Woolwich.  It is a pity that sentencing remarks are not readily available and that we are in the position of having to rely on media reports.  Clearly, from the fact of an extended sentence, prime concerns of Judge Topolski would have been deterrence and prevention of further offending.  The whole purpose of the extension period is to give further protection to the public from serious harm occasioned by the commission by the defendant of further 'specified' offences.

Here are three reports offering details of the case:  The Guardian 5th December 2014;   BBC 7th December;   Birmingham Mail 9th July 2014.

It is to be noted that the men entered guilty pleas in July 2014.  Yusuf Sarwar's mother had reported to the Police her concerns about her son.  The judge commented about her 'extraordinarily brave conduct.'  However, Mrs Sarwar now feels very 'let down' by the length of the sentence imposed and says that it is unlikely that other parents will report similar concerns.  Regrettably, on that she may well be proved to be right.  

According to this Guardian report - Mrs Sarwar said:

“The police say ‘mothers come forward’, you can trust us, we will help. But now they will see what happened to my son. What kind of person would go to the police if they think their son will get 12 years in prison? Nobody wants to do that. I did not want that.”

Mrs Sarwar also pointed to the sentence handed down last month to British soldier Ryan McGee, from Greater Manchester, an English Defence League supporter, convicted of making bombs filled with shrapnel. McGee was in possession of knives, axes and imitation guns; he was sent to prison for two years.

The family had been told that Yusuf, whose grandfather served with the British army, might expect a similar kind of sentence after their pleas of guilty.

Whether the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) will come to consider this sentence remains to be seen.  In the event of an appeal, it will be interesting to see the weight (if any) given by the court to the conduct of the mother in reporting this to the authorities.


* CJA 2003 s226A was inserted by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 section 124 which came into force on 3rd December 2012.  226A replaces the extended sentence provided for by CJA 2003 s227.


  1. Given its length the aim of the Judge's sentence is presumably deterrence. However, much criminal behavioural research suggests deterrence is ineffective. One might well suspect these men will be more radicalised on leaving prison in 8 years time than they are at present.

    We support the use of rehabilitation - a perfectly good aim of the justice system - in countries like Yemen but not, it seems, here. If there really are the hundred's of young British men fighting in the Middle East, then I suggest we would be better employed in finding a more productive form of dealing with them on their return.

  2. "Deterrence" is interesting. It is generally assumed that imposing harsh sentences deters others. It may well deter some but it never has deterred others determined enough, for whatever reasons, to commit crimes. It is well-known that when thieves were publicly hanged, the pickpockets were active in the crowd ! Harsh sentences may also only serve to feed certain "political" causes because they give additional reason for disaffected individuals to oppose the established order. I wrote about deterrence back on 12th February 2010.