Joe was sentenced on 5th April 2011 at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London. The charge against him was (simple) arson, not the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life. The Judge dealt with Joe as though he had intended to endanger lives and imposed an IPP (Indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection) together with a minimum tariff of 2 years in prison before he could be considered for parole.
The Judge explained in court how he calculated this sentence and gave the IPP. He said if Joe had pleaded not guilty, he would have given him a sentence of 6 years for this offence. The question of 'dangerousness' then had to be considered. If Joe was not considered a danger to the public and pleaded guilty, then the Judge would have given him a prison sentence of 4 years and Joe could expect to be released in 2 years. (One-third of a sentence is taken off if someone pleads guilty). Prisoners are expected to serve half of their sentence.
The Judge said in court that he dismissed all Joe's previous psychiatric history as 'in the past' so he did not take any of the mitigating evidence into account. He then said he would impose an IPP on Joe and he had to serve the minimum of 2 years before he could appear before the Parole Board.
The judge based his verdict on his reading of a report by a doctor at a Hackney hospital. In it, the doctor states that Joe showed no signs of mental illness but he also said that he couldn't discount signs of paranoia and developing psychosis and that Joe might have significant brain damage. He concluded that he did not consider Joe was a risk to the public.
The judge's view was that Joe showed no sign of mental illness at the time he committed the offence, despite the fact that he had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act less than 48 hours previously. He also refused to accept that Joe posed no risk to the public.
The judge never met or spoke to Joe - who was too ill to be present - and never once asked us, his family, anything about him. When Joe's barrister mentioned his long-standing diagnosis of bipolar and subsequent treatment, the judge dismissed this as past history.
Mitigating evidence usually results in a reduced sentence. If the Judge had accepted the evidence of Joe's psychiatric history, this would have resulted in a reduced sentence of less than 4 years. An IPP can only be imposed where a sentence of a minimum of 4 years is given.
The family understand that an average sentence for this type of offence would be approximately 2 years. We even hoped that Joe might be released from custody on the day we went to court, or very soon after.
An IPP order is normally imposed only on prisoners deemed so dangerous that they pose a serious threat to society. The judge also said that Joe must serve a minimum of two years before a parole board could consider whether he is a risk to the public. If the sentence had been less than four years - as is normal for a crime of this kind - the judge would not have been able to impose the IPP order.
I was in court with other members of Joe's family and friends. I'm his mother and carer and have looked after him all his life. I find it very difficult to express how I felt when I heard the verdict.
The sentence is unbelievably harsh. It is an extremely serious conviction that will ruin Joe's life.
A young man with serious and enduring mental health problems who tried to escape from a psychiatric ward, is being treated as a criminal.
A person sectioned in a mental health ward is not deemed responsible for their actions: a criminal is.
I don't think Joe should have been sent to prison at all after committing an offence under section in a psychiatric ward.
Furthermore, after the Prison Psychiatrist recommended Joe be sectioned and transferred to a hospital, I do not understand why the doctor in Hackney did not support this application for a transfer. Prior to Joe being sentenced, the prison had asked the local hospital (in Hackney) twice, to agree to a transfer from prison into hospital.
Many things have conspired to bring about this terrible judgment, but the fundamental issue at stake is justice.
I believe my son has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. He doesn't need punishment; he needs help.