Raab promises to act on ‘spineless’ killers who dodge sentence hearings

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The law will be changed to prevent “spineless” criminals like Thomas Cashman refusing to attend sentencing hearings, Dominic Raab promised.

Cashman refused to face the family of his nine-year-old victim Olivia Pratt-Korbel as he was jailed for life for her murder.

Justice Secretary Mr Raab is under pressure to act to ensure killers cannot avoid appearing in court.

Cashman is beginning a life sentence and must spend at least 42 years behind bars before being considered for parole after shooting the schoolgirl in her home in Dovecot, Liverpool, on August 22 last year.

“Spineless criminals like Cashman who hide from their sentencing prolong the suffering of victims and their families,” Mr Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, said.

“As I have already made clear, I plan to change the law to compel offenders to face up to their actions, so victims can see the justice they deserve being served.”

Mr Raab committed to change the law, possibly by giving judges the power to impose longer terms on those who refuse to appear, after the killer of Zara Aleena refused to attend his sentencing in December.

The family of the murdered law graduate held talks with Mr Raab in the wake of Jordan McSweeney’s sentencing and pushed for the change to prevent others suffering as they had.

McSweeney, who murdered 35-year-old Ms Aleena as she walked home in Ilford, east London, on June 26 last year, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 38 years last December.

Zara Aleena
Murdered law graduate Zara Aleena (Family handout/PA)

When lawyer Craig Mackenzie, who appeared alongside her, suggested the plan was impractical she claimed there are “other ways” to implement it that do not involve dragging defendants kicking and screaming into the dock.

She added: “Surely the judgment is part of the punishment … we need to see that the process will deter further crime and how can the process feel like a punishment if the convict actually exercises their bit of power?

“It’s the last bit of power that needs to be taken away, certainly in our eyes.

“I think there are other ways to make the convict come to face their judgment and that would be to add time to their sentencing or there can be other ways.

“Otherwise we don’t have people deterred from committing crimes, if they’re just moving from cell to cell there’s no sense of punishment.

Farah Naz
Farah Naz, the aunt of Zara Aleena (Helen William/PA)

She described McSweeney refusing to attend his sentencing as a “further slap in the face” and “another attack from him”.

She also said the family had “anticipated the moment” they would be able to look at McSweeney and give their victim impact statement, adding that it felt like an “incomplete process” after he refused to turn up.

She added that she felt “really sad” for Olivia’s family that they were not able to see the man who “destroyed their lives” being sentenced.

Mr Mackenzie suggested the proposals were impractical because victims’ families could be even more distressed if criminals become very disruptive during sentencing hearings they have been forced to attend.

Thomas Cashman
Thomas Cashman refused to attend his sentencing hearing (Merseyside Police/PA)

“Labour called for new laws on this back in April last year – but the Conservatives have dragged their feet and failed to act.”

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