Monday, July 21, 2008

He caused her death - but the judge can't jail him

I'm angry and disgusted to read of the case of Ian Patterson.

A district judge today criticised sentencing powers which left him unable to jail a 17-year-old youth for making a hoax call to the fire service that led to a woman's death.

Nicola Stacy, 36, from Sheffield, died last month when her car was hit by a fire engine responding to an emergency call made by Ian Patterson 'for a laugh'.

Handing Patterson an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) and a 12-month referral order, District Judge John Foster said the case was one of the worst he had seen and the defendant deserved to go to prison but could not because of his age.

Earlier this month, Patterson, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty at Doncaster Youth Court to three counts of making false reports to South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service on June 26, June 27 and June 29.

Today, the court heard that the teenager made the third call from a mobile phone at 10.49pm and reported that a warehouse was on fire on Old Sheffield Road, Rotherham.

Two fire engines were sent to the reported fire and, while one arrived to discover it was a false alarm, the other was involved in the fatal collision as it was travelling to the warehouse.

Ms Stacy was declared dead at the scene of the accident and her 10-year-old daughter, who was a front-seat passenger, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Sentencing Patterson, District Judge Foster said: 'Entirely, it seems to me, as a result of your actions, someone has lost their life and a young child has been seriously hurt. Very seriously hurt.'

He continued: 'What has frankly astonished me is the powers I have to deal with a case of this sort are so limited.

'Parliament has decreed that if you were 18 years of age you could be sent to prison but for a maximum of three months only. But you are not 18, you are 17.

'You richly deserve to lose your liberty in my view for a significant period of time but because you are 17 and because the maximum sentence an adult can receive is three months in prison, I cannot sentence you to custody.'

Commenting on Patterson's explanation to the police that he made the phone calls 'for a laugh' because he was bored, District Judge Foster said: 'I cannot think of a less apt reason being proffered by a defendant for committing an offence with the consequences this had.'

This is one of those times when I almost despair at the legal system. If the law won't permit a suitable punishment for this homicidal maniac, then the law - at least in the UK - is truly an ass.

May the soul of Nicola Stacy rest in God's peace.



Randy said...

While I agree wholeheartedly with your premise I think "homicidal maniac" is a little over the top unless you can show he was trying for this result. Such hyperbole detracts from your argument and the good points you make.

Peter (NOGH) said...

OTOH, we have the now common occurence of prosecutors going out of their way to have minors tried as adults.

And distorting the RICO statutes to legally steal money and property from citizens.

I don't know what the right answer is, I just don't, but sure as the sun rises, if one was to enact a law to address what this wanker did, there would be a stampede to try and use it whenever possible. And it would be used unhustly, as it always seems to. :(

dave said...

Even the American concept of the "felony murder rule" would probably fall short here--I doubt (though I may be corrected) that falsely calling for a fire truck is a felony.

As tragic as the death is, we have to remember that the proximate cause of the injuries is the fire truck driver's failure to control his vehicle (assuming he was at-fault; the other vehicle's driver, if not). While I agree that the fire truck wouldn't have been there had Patterson not made that call, I still draw the line short of saying that he is responsible for the death.

A case occurred a while ago (don't recall exactly when) in which a criminal was charged under the felony murder rule for the death of a police officer who was killed when he crashed his squad car. He was some thirty miles from the scene, and responding under the influence, but the defendant was charged with his death. Again, I believe that--without excusing his criminal actions--primary culpability lies with the officer to maintain positive control of his vehicle (absent some action on the part of the defendant to interfere with that control).

Another case involved a pair of news/police/etc. helicopters who had a midair while covering a standoff. Again, felony murder rule, and again, I think it's a stretch.

We've tried so hard to enhance penalties for criminal actions that we've delved into the absurd, pinning upon them responsibility for the actions of others. I just can't get behind that.

Mithras61 said...

dave said "I doubt (though I may be corrected) that falsely calling for a fire truck is a felony."

Actually, in many states it is a felony. If someone is injured or dies because of the act of turning in a false alarm it can be enhanced as well. I recall the case of a 10yo boy in Houston, TX who faced felony charges for pulling a fire alarm in his school.

I haven't sorted out all my feelings on this, but consider that the fire truck would have been in the firehouse except for the false report, but it was sent out at this wanker's false report of a fire. Maybe he doesn't need to be facing felony charges, but there are a couple other things you should remember - it wasn't his first false report, and it was just for kicks (he was bored, I suppose) and the best entertainment he could come up with resulted in someone dying and another person hospitalized - people who would not have even been in the path of the fire truck if the alarm hadn't been raised in the first place. Yes, the truck driver may bear some responsibility (we don't have the details of the accident - maybe she failed to yield and ran under the truck), but it should have been in the fire house, not racing to some imagined fire...