NEWS – Unofficial transcript of the first sentencing remarks broadcast from the Crown Court.
Ben Oliver, sentenced for the manslaughter by Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro QC at the Old Bailey.
- You were diagnosed with autism at a young age and went to school for autistic children, but you did not thrive there. Your behaviour deteriorated further when your mother became involved in a same sex relationship. You were in and out of care and irreparably damaged by your early childhood experiences and by your learning disabilities. Throughout your childhood and adult life, you had a very strong and positive relationship with your maternal grandparents. You loved, and love your nan very much, and she loved and still loves you. Her evidence at your trial was compelling and informative. You clearly displayed many of the recognised features of autistic spectrum disorder and you lacked the ability to show empathy to others, with the exception of your nan and to some extent, your granddad.
- Until shortly before his death. When you were 15 and 16, you sexually abused a very young female child. And in September 2016 you received a six-year custodial sentence for a number of offences, including rape and an offence of in possession of indecent images of children. I pause there to record my firm view as supported by the psychiatric evidence that the offending in which you were involved was learned from your own childhood experiences, and your lack of empathy or understanding was exacerbated by and rooted in your autism. You have no other convictions. However, you were on licence from that sentence when you killed you grandfather.
- Days before you were sent to custody in 2016, your grandfather had a stroke which left him paralysed, save for the partial use of his right side. He was largely bed bound and looked after by your grandmother, supported by daily carers. While you were serving your sentence, you were the victim of violence at the hands of other prisoners. You have prescribed medication for your autism and depression whilst you were in custody. You were released on licence in September 2019. While you were still in custody, allegations came to light that your grandfather had himself committed child sex offences. Both your mother and your uncle expressed a serious desire and formed intent to kill your grandfather and had to be dissuaded by your grandmother from doing so. From that time, your nan lost all respect for her husband, who’d also been cruel to her and unfaithful during their marriage.
- Upon your release, you were given a flat about seven miles away from where your grandparents lived. Initially, you were very house proud. And you did very well until the pandemic hit. You later found out about the allegations of sexual abuse involving your grandfather, and you told your nan that you could not love him anymore and that indeed you hated him. However, at that stage, you did not exhibit any violence towards him nor express any desire to do so.
- COVID hit you very hard. You became obsessive about catching the virus and behaved in very extreme ways in order to avoid doing so. You also became paranoid about infecting your grandparents and avoided contact with them. Your mental health deteriorated as a result because you were isolated and separated from your grandmother. On Christmas Eve 2020, you went to your grandmother’s house and asked her to help you to commit suicide by providing for you an overdose of tablets. You said that you wanted to die in her arms. She comforted you and she dissuaded you. You stayed at your grandparents house for Christmas, but then returned to your flat on the 27th December. From that date onward, you would speak to your nan on the phone three or four times every hour.
- On the 6th January 2021 you rang your nan again, intent on killing yourself. She tried to persuade you not to do so, but you call the RSPCA and asked them to collect your pet ferret, telling the operator that you were going to commit suicide. The operator noted that you were speaking most bizarrely and making very little sense. That call was recorded and the jury heard the nature of the things which you was saying which were psychotic in nature. Of particular concern is your assertion in that call that you’ve been looking at child pornography and had exposed yourself. On that occasion you were taken to hospital, but due to your autism, you did not understand that you were expected to stay there, and instead you took a taxi to your nan’s house. She wanted you to stay with her, but you went back to your flat because of concern for your pet. You were in no fit state to be left unsupervised. Your nan said that by then “We all knew he wasn’t well and tried to get him an appointment“. On the 14th January, you attempted suicide again. Firstly, by trying to hang yourself and then by drinking bath water contaminated with bleach. You were taken to accident and emergency, but released to the Home Treatment Team. Your nan described you on that day as “absolutely tormented”. You were only relaxed if you could lie next to your nan and hold her arm. Your medication was increased, and your Home Treatment Team was then changed from the team which had been looking after you near your flat to the one near your grandparents.
- From 15th January, you never left your nan’s address again until you’re arrested for murder. You spent your days with your nan and continued to speak about demons who were out to get you. At about this time, your mother told you that she would not have peace until your grandfather was dead. You also knew by then how unhappy he had made your grandmother. On the 18th January, you watched a film with your nan about an abused orphan and texted your mother about the effect that film had had upon you.
- On the morning of the killing the 19th January, the carers came as usual, to see your grandfather’s see to your grandfather’s needs. When they had gone, your nan took him a biscuit and a cup of coffee. That was the last time she saw him alive. She noted that you were jittery and couldn’t rest. You asked to lie down next to her, which you did. However, when she got up, you then went downstairs. It was about 11.30 or 11.45 that morning. You selected a knife from the kitchen and you went to your grandfather’s room. You then cut his throat repeatedly with severe force, you stabbed his mouth so that he could not cry out and his eyes so that he couldn’t look at you as you killed him. He tried in vain to protect himself by raising his right arm. He was utterly powerless. There were a total of 21 stab wounds to the face, seven to the torso and obvious defence injuries. He died very quickly of massive blood loss. Following the killing, you told your nan what you had done saying “He can’t hurt you anymore, Nan”. You also texted your mother saying “Mum, I’ve killed Granddad. I love you”. Your nan called 999 and you sat with her. At one point you went upstairs and sat on the windowsill. I’m satisfied that you had it in mind to jump to your death, but your nan persuaded you to come in and you calmly sat with her until the police arrived. You were entirely cooperative. Your nan told the police “We all wanted to kill him”. That was a reference to your granddad.
- While you were in custody before your trial, there were numerous mental health assessments which resulted in a divergence of opinion as to the true nature and extent of your mental illness. The psychiatrist instructed on your behalf for your trial had access to all your records and had greater expertise in determining the true position. In the light of the jury’s verdict, I proposed to proceed on the basis that the defence experts, Dr Coming and Dr Cho were correct in their diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, depression and adjustment disorder. The latter, as a result of finding out about the allegations of sexual abuse by the deceased.
- Their view was that your diagnosed medical conditions substantially impaired your ability to form a rational judgement. You did not think that there was an alternative to killing your granddad. You did not think about the consequences and did not have the skills to manage conflict or to see the bigger picture due to your obsessional and tunnel vision. On the other hand, you did understand that you were killing your granddad and had decided to do so.
- This is a complex sentencing exercise. Firstly, I have to apply the Sentencing Council guideline for this type of manslaughter. I begin by assessing the level of responsibility which you retained for the killing. There are three levels high, medium and lower. I have decided that the level of responsibility retained by you was towards the very top of the medium level range. Noting that there is an overlap between that range and the range for a high level of retained responsibility. I take that view because unlike some cases of this kind, you were not psychotic. Your autism was defined as significant, but not severe. You made the determined decision to kill your granddad and you carried out the killing in a ferocious but controlled way, making conscious decisions to attack his eyes and mouth, knowing that you were killing him and why you were doing so. The relevance of your mental abnormality is that which was articulated by the psychiatrist called on your behalf, as I have set out above. As the author of the pre-sentence report states “Because of your past experiences, you did not have the resilience or skills to cope with these disclosures, and your emotional wellbeing plummeted”. For all those reasons, I take a starting point for sentence of 24 years imprisonment. I then have to turn to consider aggravating factors. They are four: The vulnerability of your bed bound elderly grandfather;The physical suffering inflicted upon him; Your previous offending; The fact that you were on licence in relation to mitigation.
- I firstly point out that your abnormality of mental functioning has already been accounted for in the reduction of the offence from murder to manslaughter. However, there is considerable additional mitigation in relation to your upbringing, your experiences as a child and the fact that other members of your family to your knowledge wanted and on two occasions set out to kill your grandfather due to the unproven allegations made against him. Of further significance, is your recent discovery that he had hurt your beloved grandmother. In addition, it is to your credit that you have always accepted your guilt and told the truth about what you did and why. You have also expressed remorse, telling the probation officer “I’ve just made it worse, made the pain greater”.
- There was ample evidence that you had tried to seek help for your mental health problems and had done well whilst on licence. It is unfortunate that the professionals did not identify the risk posed by you remaining in the community and particularly by placing you with your grandparents. Dr. Coming has provided an addendum report which confirms that a hospital order is not an option in your case. He describes you as a very damaged man who will require psychological work in the longer term. In my view, the mitigating factors balance out the aggravating factors so that I do not add to the notional term of 24 years.
- I then have to consider Dangerousness. The probation officer has accurately set out the relevant considerations and I agree with her assessment and the reasons for it. In my judgement, you do present a significant risk to the public occasioned by the commission of further specified offences due firstly to your previous serious offending. Secondly, the fact that there is evidence that you have a continuing interest in illegal pornography. Thirdly, the suddenness of your deterioration and fourthly, the seriousness and ferocity of the attack upon your grandfather. You therefore fit the criteria for a dangerous offender. Section 285 of the Sentencing Act 2020 provides that as I have determined you meet the dangerous next criteria. I then have to decide whether the seriousness of the offence of manslaughter is such as to justify the imposition of imprisonment for life. If I do conclude that it does, I then must impose such a sentence. In your case, I do consider that the seriousness of the offence justifies a life sentence and that is the sentence I must therefore impose upon you. I have already determined that the notional determinant term would be 24 years before credit for your plea of guilty. In my view, you deserve full credit for your plea of guilty which was entered at the first reasonable opportunity after you were deemed fit to plead. That plea reduces the notional determinate term to one of 16 years. In setting the minimum term, which you must serve before you can be considered for release by the parole board, I must adopt a term which is two thirds of the notional determinant term, which in this case gives 10 years and eight months.
- Would you stand up, please. The sentence I pass upon you is therefore one of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 10 years and eight months from that term will be deducted the term you have spent on remand, which is 553 days. That deduction results in a term of nine years and 63 days. Those numbers can be amended administratively if my calculation is incorrect. Once you have served that term, you will be entitled to apply for parole. However, you will not be released by the parole board unless they conclude that you no longer pose a risk to the public. If you are released, you will remain on licence for the rest of your life. I impose the appropriate surcharge.
- That concludes the sentencing remarks, and he may go down. Thank you.