Whole-life sentences will become ‘default’ for sexually motivated or sadistic murders, PM says


Whole-life prison sentences will become the “default” punishment for “sexual or sadistic” murders, the prime minister has said.

Former NHS neo-natal nurse Lucy Letby was told she will never be released on Monday after being convicted of murdering seven babies and trying to kill six others on 18 August.

She is only the fourth woman to be given a whole-life tariff in England and Wales. Sixty-six men are currently serving them in prisons and secure hospitals across the two nations.

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

But the government says it plans to change the law so that “judges are required to impose whole-life orders on the most depraved killers, except in extremely limited circumstances”.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said: “A whole life order will now be the expectation for murderers where the killing involves sexual or sadistic conduct.”

The proposed change in legislation will give judges “greater confidence to hand out whole-life orders without a risk of challenge in the Courts of Appeal”, according to ministers.

Under changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which came into effect last year, the criteria for whole-life tariffs was expanded to include premeditated murders of children.

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But now “sexually-motivated” murders will also merit the most severe sentence.

New criteria could have applied to Aleena and Nessa cases

This could have applied to the recent cases of Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa, who were both sexually assaulted and murdered as they walked home in London.

Zara Aleena, 36, was found with 'serious head injuries'. Pic: Met Police
Zara Aleena

Jordan McSweeney, who has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the murder of law graduate Zara Aleena
Zara Aleena’s killer Jordan McSweeney

Jordan McSweeney was jailed for life with a minimum of 38 years for the murder of Ms Aleena in Ilford.

While Koci Selamaj was handed life with a minimum of 36 years for killing Ms Nessa in Greenwich.

Sabina Nessa was on her way to meet a friend when she was killed.
Sabina Nessa

Undated handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of "predatory" garage worker Koci Selamaj who has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to murdering the primary school teacher Sabina Nessa who was killed as she walked through Cator Park on her way to meet a friend in Kidbrooke, south-east London on September 17, 2021. Issue date: Friday February 25, 2022.
Sabina Nessa’s murderer Koci Selamaj

Wayne Couzens, the former Met Police officer who kidnapped, raped and strangled Sarah Everard as she walked home in south London in 2021, was given a whole-life sentence.

Sentencing him, Lord Justice Fulford said the seriousness of Couzens’ crimes and the “misuse of a police officer’s role” was so “exceptionally high” that they merited a whole-life tarriff.

Undated family handout photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. Ms Everard's killer Wayne Couzens will return to the Old Bailey to enter pleas after being charged with flashing. Issue date: Monday October 3, 2022.
Sarah Everard

Rishi Sunak commented: “I have shared the public’s horror at the cruelty of crimes we have seen recently.

“People rightly expect that in the most serious cases, there should be a guarantee that life will mean life. They expect honesty in sentencing.

“By bringing in mandatory whole life orders for the heinous criminals who commit the most horrific types of murder, we will make sure they never walk free.”

Read more:
The whole life-killers currently behind bars
Can criminals like Letby be dragged to court?

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed MP said Labour would not take “any lessons from this soft on crime Tory government”.

“Under their watch, nine out of ten crimes go unsolved and tens of thousands of dangerous criminals including gunmen, child abductors, and sex offenders have avoided jail sentences,” he said.

“To make matters worse, our prisons are now full because they failed to build the prison cells we need, forcing judges to hand out softer sentences.”

He added that if elected, Labour would “implement tougher sentences for dangerous criminals and build the prison places to put them behind bars”.