Preston Crown Court
19 February 2016
Sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Kerr
- Ms Palmer, please remain seated for the moment. The jury has convicted you of murdering Damon Searson. Just after midnight on 14th August last year, you stabbed him to the heart with a single thrust using a kitchen knife you picked up.
- This is a distressing, indeed tragic case. You did not mean him to die, but you meant to cause him really serious injury. You took his life, yet you loved him. You have taken him from his family forever.
- Your relationship with Damon was destructive. You meant to help him overcome his demons, drink and drugs. You tried to help him become a better person and make something of his life. You wanted both of you to be happy.
- Many murders are committed by far worse people than you. Until this happened, no one would have thought of you as an evil person. Yet what you did to Damon Searson was evil, during that one terrible moment in an otherwise blameless and productive life and in accordance with the jury’s verdict, you must answer to the law for it.
- For this offence of murder, the sentence I am required by law to pass is one of life imprisonment.
- I have to determine the minimum term of imprisonment which you must serve before being eligible to apply to the Parole Board to be considered for
- To do so, I have to consider the provisions of Schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 regarding the seriousness of the offence, to determine the minimum term of that life sentence that you must serve as the punishment and deterrent term of the sentence, before consideration can be given to your release.
- A minimum term is not the same as an ordinary sentence of imprisonment where a defendant will normally serve only half of that sentence before being released on licence. A minimum term is the term that must be served before your case may be referred to the Parole Board for a consideration of your release upon licence. It means the actual length of time that you will spend in prison before that process can take place.
- Whether or not you will be released after the minimum term has been served will be for the Parole Board to consider at the end of the minimum term. The Parole Board will not decide that you can be released at that stage, unless it is satisfied that you are not a risk to the public, and are ready for release into society.
- If you are released at that time, or any later time, you will be released on licence with specific conditions attached, and may be recalled to continue serving your life sentence if you breach any licence conditions that are imposed upon you.
- You did not take the knife to the scene of the murder. It was already there. I therefore take the statutory starting point for the minimum term as 15 years.
- The case has certain aggravating features:
- The use of a knife. This is always an aggravating feature
- The stabbing took place in Mr Searson’s own home
- You must have come upon him unawares. He was unable to defend himself. There were no significant defensive injuries. He was therefore a vulnerable victim.
- You told implausible lies to a lady from the ambulance service and to the police, including in a prepared statement after Damon had died.
- There are, however, also mitigating features in this case, to which your counsel, Mr Trafford QC, has eloquently drawn my attention during the trial:
- The crime was completely unpremeditated and you regretted it immediately. I accept that you were as horrified as everyone else about what had just happened.
- You did not intend to kill him. The Crown accepted that, and so do I. You did, however, intend to do him really serious injury. That is the jury’s verdict.
- I am satisfied that you formed the intention to do serious harm to Damon only moments before carrying it out. I do not interpret the Facebook messages relied upon by the Crown as evidence of premeditation.
- Although this was a murder by stabbing with a knife, you are not a person who carries knives, as so many knife murderers do. You picked up the knife on impulse, on the spur of the moment.
- Your love for Damon was deep and moved by a spirit of kindness and generosity. Your conduct towards him did you great credit until this happened.
- You are not to blame for failing to realise that your attempt to save him from himself was misguided, as hindsight shows. You were too young and in love to understand that. You meant well for him right up until seconds before you took his life.
- You had great difficulties to endure because of Damon’s problems with alcohol and drugs, and his shortcomings as a boyfriend. This does not in any way absolve you. This is not a case of loss of control; but it is a mitigating feature.
- You did all you could to save Damon. You called the emergency services and tried to stop the blood with a quilt, following the advice from the ambulance service.
- Finally, as I have said, you were at the time a very young woman, only 22 years old. You are now 23. Your age is a factor that I take into account.
- These aggravating and mitigating features must be balanced against each other, and weighed in the scales by the court when considering whether to increase, or reduce, or adopt, the starting point of 15 years as the minimum term you must serve.
- Balancing the aggravating and mitigating features of this very sad case, I find that, unusually, even though this is a case of murder by stabbing, the mitigating features outweigh the aggravating features, so that I move downwards rather than upwards from the 15 year starting point.
- I do not do so lightly, but only after very careful reflection. I know what a scourge knife crime is, and I know that sentences in cases of murder by stabbing normally require minimum terms well above the 15 year starting point.
- Because of the unusual features of this case, which emerged in detail from the evidence called by the Crown during the trial, I think that this is a case where the minimum term should be less than the starting point.
- I take into account that you have two previous cautions for relatively minor offences involving violence. They do not affect me much one way or the other; you were very young, and the offences pale into insignificance beside this one.
- Stand up please, Ms Palmer. The sentence of the court for the murder of Damon Searson is life imprisonment, with a minimum term to be served of 12 years, less 178 days spent on remand in custody awaiting trial.
- The statutory charges apply.