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Proportionate sentencing: why the sentences for the killers of Shakilus Townsend are inadequate.

For those of such as myself who do not believe in capital punishment, one issue is exactly how sentencing can adequately replace that in such a way as to protect the public and to give the victim's family an adequate sense of justice having been done.

Although one should always hesitate to differ from the sentencing judge who knows all the facts, the family of Shakilus Townsend who described the sentences passed on his murderers as inadequate were surely right. It may be that those sentences fit with the existing tariff. If so that shows the existing approach is wrong.

Most readers will recall this story even if they do not know the essential facts, it having been referred to as the "honey trap" killing. 16-year-old Shakilus Townsend had a 15-year-old girlfriend, Samantha Joseph. He did not know that she was also seeing Danny McLean, a prominent member of the violent South London gang Shine My Nine. When McLean found out that she was also seeing Shakilus, he ordered her to deliver the boy to him. From his photographs Shakilus Townsend looked to be a cheerful and handsome youth. He was not involved in a violent gang, but was just a young man in love. He had told his mother that he wanted to marry Samantha Joseph, but she was telling friends that she was only using him. Samantha Joseph arranged to take him to where the gang would be waiting for him, he of course entirely ignorant of what was proposed. He thought he was going to see her cousin. Apparently she laughed as they attacked him. I suppose we will never know if he heard that. What we do know is that as he lay dying in was crying out out for his mother and saying, "I don't want to die." .

The planned ambush was ferocious. He was stabbed six times and also beaten with baseball bats. His attackers were masked and hooded. There were many of them and they were armed. They were also rather older than him. A more sickening and cowardly attack it would be difficult to imagine. The principal assailant, Maclean plunged a knife into Shakilus’s chest, dragging and twisting it across his organs.

Various convicted defendants were given life sentences with minimum terms. McLean has a minimum 15 years’ detention. Andre Thompson, 17, a minimum 14-year term, Andre Johnson-Haynes, 18, Michael Akinfenwa, 18, and brothers Tyrell Ellis, 19, and Don-Carlos Ellis, 18, of Thornton Heath, were all given minimum sentences of 12 years. As they were led from the court, they and their supporters in the public gallery apparently made noises and gestures of defiance. Absolutely no suggestion of remorse or anything other than still carrying on as one would expect violent gang members to do.

Meanwhile Samantha Joseph (who had been 15 at the time of the offence and was 17 at sentence) received a life sentence with a minimum 10 year term, and was described by the detectives involved as having been callous with no sign of emotion.

None of these defendants showed any human feeling emotion or concern during this savage attack. Nor have they shown any remorse since. It is likely that Mr Joseph will be released in her 20s, and the others at 30 or in their 30s. When one compares that to the effect on the deceased and his family there appears to be a great discrepancy. The victim impact statement from the family stated as follows: "The reality that these young people with no souls had such a disregard for life that they deliberately conspired to use manipulation to cause nothing short of destruction is absolutely soul-destroying for me. They should never again be allowed to destroy another family. I may forgive them one day, but not today.". Any parent can hardly begin to imagine how the family must have felt.

I'm afraid to say that for vicious and deliberate killers without remorse the sentences are woefully inadequate, particularly in the case of McLean. Miss Joseph was very young but I still consider a 15 year minimum term for her would have been more appropriate. McLean as the ringleader should have a 30 year minimum term, and the others about 20.

These may be regarded as savage proposed sentences, they are much more humane and capital punishment. The public still need to be reassured that murder is treated seriously and that in the most serious cases court will deal with the remorseless and merciless with no more mercy than they would show themselves. Planned knife crime murder is no better and no worse than planned gun murder. This was about as savage and despicable a murder as it is possible to imagine and should be dealt with as such. People at 18 are adults. People at about that age are dying in the Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Those at 18 and over and committing an offence, particularly one like this, should expect to be dealt with in such a way that is no different from older adults and will mean that by the time of their release they are no longer young. They will still have much more of a life than poor besotted Shakilus Townsend will ever get

Michael J. Booth QC