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9/26/2016

Happy Valley ~ a look at some of the legal angles


The BBC's crime drama "Happy Valley" has just completed its second series.  It was full of legal interest.  Set in and around West Yorkshire's Calder Valley, this gritty and sometimes violent story line was centred on Police Sergeant Cawood played by Sarah Lancashire and the various people she encountered as part of her work including a young man - Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) - who is the father of Cawood's grandson.  Royce is a dangerous individual who copes with life by taking control of everything and everyone around him.


Series 1 saw Royce involved
in kidnapping, rape of his victim and the commission of three murders including the brutal murder of a Police Officer.

In Series 2, Royce is in prison but is seeking to get at Cawood by using a woman called Frances Drummond (Shirley Henderson) who visits him frequently in prison. Series 2 also focuses on Detective Sergeant John Wadsworth (played by Kevin Doyle).  Wadsworth, a fundamentally decent man in an unhappy marriage, had an affair with the scheming Vicky Fleming (Amelia Bullmore) but when Wadsworth tried to end it she blackmailed him.  That led to Wadsworth killing her during an altercation at her flat and then seeking to put the blame on to another killer who was active in the area.  The series ended with Wadsworth, clearly distressed by the shame of what he had done, committing suicide.


Series 1 - (a) Kidnapping - (b) Murder sentencing and (c) Deals with the prosecution:

(a) Kidnapping - was the subject of a November 2014 Law Commission report where reforms were proposed but, as yet, these have not been acted on by the government.  The Commission recommended the creation of two distinct statutory offences to replace the existing common law.

"False imprisonment" would be replaced with a new statutory offence of unlawful detention (a label which we believe better captures the nature of the offence). The elements of the new offence would closely follow the existing common law.

A new statutory kidnapping offence would be somewhat narrower and more focussed that the existing common law offence.  Kidnapping would have fewer, more closely defined, elements and a clearer relationship with the offence of unlawful detention.

The Commission also proposed amendments to section 1 and 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984.

(b) Murder sentencing - Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment and that would have been imposed on Royce.  The trial judge fixes a minimum term to be served before parole may be considered and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 Schedule 21 sets down the parameters for deciding this term.  We were not told the minimum term in Royce's case but the judge would have a starting point of 30 years given that the case was (at least) of exceptionally high seriousness and one of his offences was the murder of a Police Officer doing her duty.  Even if the court considered that a whole life order was not appropriate it may be that the actual term imposed would have been significantly higher than the 30 year starting point.

(c) Deals - A local property developer Ashley Cowgill (Joe Armstrong) was arrested for his part in a kidnapping but he was granted bail at the Crown Court having secured a "deal" with the prosecution in exchange for information he gave to the National Crime Agency about the importation of illegal drugs.  What kind of "deals" are permitted by law?  The basis of the present law is Part 2 Chapter 2 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.  Parliament has made provision for immunity from prosecution; undertakings regarding the use of evidence; and for sentence reduction.  The essentially pragmatic rationale behind these provisions is set out in the Explanatory Notes to the Act. 

Part 2 Chapter 4 of the Act is concerned with the protection of witnesses and others.  Although Cowgill was placed under protection, it failed to prevent his murder by men clearly linked to those against whom he had given information.

Series 2 - (a) The "creepy" prison visitor - (b) Trafficking in people - (c) Provocation as a defence to murder:

(a) The prison visitor - Frances Drummond was a young woman who acquired an obsession with Tommy Lee Royce and visited him frequently in prison.  It is far from uncommon for violent criminals to obtain admiring attention - for example, the Ted Bundy case in the USA .  The attraction to such violent individuals is known as Hybristophilia.   Drummond had stolen the identity of a deceased woman and then used that identity to obtain employment as a teacher at the primary school attended by Cawood's grandson.  She was eventually arrested under the Fraud Act 2006 section 2 (Fraud by Representation) - explained here.   Drummond continued to believe that Royce could be reformed and that he should be allowed to see his son.

(b) Trafficking in people - this was touched upon during the series but not well developed as a story line.  The National Crime Agency website has more details.  The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was enacted to try to combat this abysmal crime.  See the Background Notes to the Act.

(c) Provocation - At common law, in relation to murder, provocation could operate as a partial defence which, if successfully pleaded, reduced the conviction to one of manslaughter.  Both the common law on this subject and the Homicide Act 1957 section 3 have been replaced by a statutory defence of "Loss of Control" - Coroners and Justice Act 2009 section 54 and 55 - previous posts 8th September 2010 (Law of murder: implementation of further reform) and 18th January 2012 (Homicide: a major Court of Appeal decision).   There have been a number of subsequent cases before the Court of Appeal.

Det Sgt Wadsworth was being blackmailed by Vicky Fleming.  This led to a scene in which he killed her.  Having done so, he went to considerable lengths to try to place the blame on whoever was responsible for a series of murders in the area.  Could he have successfully pleaded loss of control?

All one can say is that the defence MAY have been available depending on how section 55 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is viewed as applied to all the facts of the case.  Not only must the defendant have lost control but it must be due to a "qualifying trigger" and there may be such a trigger if the loss of control was attributable to things said or done which caused him to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged.  Whether there is evidence for such a defence to be considered by the jury is a question for the trial judge.

The reform to the law in this area has only served to add further complexity to the law of murder and law reformers will inevitably have to revisit this subject.  The 2006 Law Commission report on Partial Defences to Murder is essential reading for students of the law and practitioners.

Wainhouse Tower



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