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Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): It is with great pleasure that I present a petition on behalf of some 5,000 of my constituents, who remain very concerned about the proposals for the future of the Scottish regiments. The Black Watch was raised in my constituency some 300 years ago, and there is still incredible admiration and respect for the job that it does on behalf of us all. My constituents want to be reassured that, as well as having an illustrious past, it will continue to have a secure future.
The Petition of the Save the Scottish Regiments supporters, Declares their opposition to plans to abolish one Scottish Regiment and merge the remaining Regiments into a single unit. The Petitioners further declare their pride in Scotland's historic Regiments, which have strong, beneficial community links. The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to abandon UK Armed Forces spending cuts of approximately £2 billion, and thereby ensure the future of the Scottish Regiments by reversing plans to abolish one Regiment and merge the remaining Regiments into a single unit.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): I am grateful for having secured this evening's Adjournment debate and wish to use it to highlight how one of my constituents has been treated by the courts system and the Home Office after the brutal murder of her son, Michael Moss.
Michael Moss, aged 15, was murdered by three boys in the early hours of 16 November 1999. The murder was savage. After luring Michael to a school playing field, two of those convicted of his murder attacked him and stripped him naked. They left Michael seriously injured and unable to move. Then, they went to the home of the third killer, woke him and returned to the playing field. There, all three continued the attack.
The killers used sadistic and gratuitous violence. There is evidence to show that they used swings to obtain height and thereby generated maximum force to cause greater injury from the violence they inflicted. They also used a broken spirit bottle to inflict stab wounds to Michael's neck. They subjected him to prolonged torture and violence.
All three boys were convicted of murder at Liverpool Crown court on 26 July 2000. At the time of the attack, two of the boys who murdered Michael were aged 15 and one aged 16. The convicted boys were given life sentences by the trial judge. On 19 October 2000, Mrs. Elizabeth Moss, Michael's mum, was visited by a representative of the victim information unit of the probation service. At that meeting, she was informed that the tariff for the three offenders had been set at 10 years. Mrs. Moss was sure that this tariff was irrevocable. However, three years laterin November 2003Mrs. Moss was contacted to be told that the tariff had not yet been imposed. Michael Moss's family were then invited to give their views to the Lord Chief Justice, who would consider their submission before setting the tariff. Mrs. Moss submitted information, which was detailed and lenient. She suggested a tariff of 15 years for such murders.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out new starting points in relation to the calculation of tariffs in mandatory life cases. In this case, if these boys had been convicted after 2003, the minimum they would have received, including the mitigation of age, was 12 years. I welcome the Government's introduction of these higher minimum tariffs for such serious cases. However, in Michael's case, when the Lord Chief Justice announced his tariff in 2004, he decided on a sentence of 10 years for two of the boys convicted and nine for the third. He included in his judgment the statement that although Mrs. Moss's
We are not here today to debate the tariff in this case. Instead, we should consider how Mrs. Moss and her family have been treated. Why were they asked for
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information if it was to be automatically rejected? In a written answer to my parliamentary question on 16 September 2004, the Minister said that the Sentencing Guidelines Council would provide
"a more collaborative and transparent system, which is open to public scrutiny, and should engender greater public confidence in sentencing practice."[Official Report, 16 September 2004; Vol. 424, c. 1686W.]
The actions of the courts and the Lord Chief Justice have been far from open and transparent in this case. They have led to confusion as to when the tariff was set and what influence the victim's family could hope to have when the tariff was being considered.
My concern is that Mrs. Moss has never been told why her views were elicited only to be dismissed as irrelevant by the Lord Chief Justice. Despite writing to the Home Office on a number of occasionsand discussing this matter privately with the relevant MinistersMrs. Moss has never received an adequate response to this question. Neither has she received an apology, which, on grounds of insensitivity alone, she deserves. I would ask that the Home Office should offer her an answer and an apology.
Mrs. Moss included personal details in her submission to the Lord Chief Justice. The details of this submission were revealed to the defendants and their families. Mrs. Moss accepts that, but was not prepared for the fact that personal details of the medical treatment required by the family to offset the emotional impact of the crime were widely publicised. It seems perverse that the Moss family's views were considered to be irrelevant to the process, yet details of the treatment that they required were suitable for public scrutiny. Mrs. Moss did not know that the judgment including those details would be published on the internet and so be publicly available to all. Could my hon. Friend the Minister explain what information is given to families when they make submissions to the Lord Chief Justice regarding the privacy and public use of such statements? Why was Mrs. Moss's express permission not sought if personal aspects of her submission were to be released publicly?
The Lord Chief Justice states that the defendants have expressed remorse. The offenders have now been in prison for four years, and the Lord Chief Justice's statement was the first that the family have heard of such an expression of regret. Information regarding the progress or otherwise of offenders in custody, their attitudes to their crime and their conduct while in the prison system are matters that are purposely withheld from the victim's family. However, Mrs. Moss is able to learn through a public document, with unrestricted access, the institutions where the offenders have been held, the names of their psychiatrists, their supervising and probation officers and other information regarding their conduct. Why is such information withheld from the family of the victim when it can be revealed publicly without any consideration as to the consequences for the families involved?
"In my view the recommendation of a 10 year tariff in the case of this very serious offence by the trial judge was merciful. If over 4 years had not elapsed since the offence and my consideration of tariff in the case . . . I would have considered 12 years the correct tariff."
The Lord Chief Justice drew attention to the length of time between the conviction and the imposition of a tariff in this case. He drew attention to the fact that this, along with other factors such as defender development, had affected his consideration of the tariff. I know that as a result of the European Court's view on the case of Venables and Thompson, the Lord Chief Justice could consider the
but if the Lord Chief Justice had considered Michael Moss's case closer to the trial date, this information would not have been available to him when setting the original tariff. Indeed, the Lord Chief Justice suggests that he may have come to a different conclusion if he had set the tariff closer to the trial date. Could my hon. Friend the Minister please explain why there was such a delay, as this time lapse has clearly affected the tariff that was set?
Liz Moss, Michael's mum, has endured every mother's nightmare: her son was killed in the most horrific circumstances. Throughout the trial and sentencing of her son's murderers, she has sought justice in a moderate and commendable way. She is an incredible woman who has earned my deep respect for the calm way in which she has handled the terrible details of her son's death. At a time when victims' families need to feel that their views are relevant and valued, this family must feel that their own views have counted for nothing. Liz Moss has been treated very badly by this system, and she deserves at least an apology. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can also offer us an explanation on the questions that I have raised.
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