Analysis: Kriegel case judge aims to strike a difficult balance by ordering sentence reviews for killers
During a lengthy and nuanced sentencing speech, Mr Justice Paul McDermott spoke of the difficult balance he had to strike in imposing terms of detention on Boy A and Boy B for the murder of 14-year-old schoolgirl Ana Kriegel.
On the one hand he had to be mindful of the young age of the offenders, who are now both 15, and their prospects for rehabilitation. On the other, he said he had to give proper weight and importance to the fact a child’s life had been taken in a most brutal fashion.
Over the course of an hour and 40 minutes, Mr Justice McDermott went into great detail explaining his decision.
Ultimately, Boy A received a life sentence for Ana’s murder, which will be reviewed after 12 years, at which point he can be released or kept in custody. He also received an eight-year concurrent sentence for aggravated sexual assault. Boy B got 15 years' detention, to be reviewed after eight years.
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What shone through from the judge’s address is that the length of time they end up being detained will very much depend on the attitude of the two boys and whether they face up to their crimes.
Mr Justice McDermott explained that for adult murder convictions, an automatic life sentence applies. In real terms this is 18 years. However, a different sentencing regime applies for children who commit murder and the courts have discretion on the length of detention.
Terms of detention cannot include a suspended element. They can, however, be reviewed, after a specified period.
Mr Justice McDermott said he had little guidance available to him from previous court decisions, as there had been so few cases of this type before.
But he explained children must be treated differently to adults and that the age of the defendant is a substantial mitigating factor.
The judge said there was a bias against custodial sentences in the 2001 Children Act, and that these should only be imposed as a last resort and be consistent with the rehabilitation of the offender and their best interest.
The judge also referred to a ruling by former Chief Justice John Murray, which outlined issues to be considered. This said that in a case where a young offender commits a very serious crime, the court must have particular regard to the prospect of rehabilitation.
Mr Justice Murray said that where the offence is egregious, the sentence may reflect a punitive element, a deterrent element, as well as the need to protect society and individuals.
But he also said young offenders who commit grave offences may mature and develop into very different personalities as they reach adulthood.
Explaining the sentences, Mr Justice McDermott said there may be capacity for improvement, development or change, despite the awful nature of the crimes committed.
However, he added that this assessment must “be grounded in reality”.
The “awful facts” of Ana Kriegel’s murder placed it “at the higher end of the scale of criminal behaviour” and both defendants were highly culpable.
The court could not lose sight of the magnitude of the offences. “It must give proper weight and importance to the fact a child’s life has been taken,” he said.
The judge said there was nothing to suggest either of these boys suffered from any mental disorder. There were no issues raised as to their competence to stand trial. There was nothing in their family backgrounds or previous histories to suggest they might be capable of these crimes.
Balanced against the mitigating factor of their young age were a whole host of aggravating factors.
The judge said it was "a murder of the most serious, disturbing and shocking type” because of the extreme violence, the swiftness with which Ana’s life was taken, the planning involved and the calculated ease with which she was killed.
While Boy A had belatedly admitted some level of acceptance he was responsible, he continued to deny certain elements, including that he sexually assaulted Ana.
Boy B does not accept any responsibility for the murder at all. Although culpable, there was no evidence he engaged in the assault on Ana and this was reflected in his sentence.
The judge said that how both boys face up to their culpability while in custody will be a factor in determining how long they will end up being detained.
Both boys will be transferred from a child detention centre to prison once they reach the ages of 18 and a half. A review of Boy A’s sentence will take place in January 2029, while Boy B’s term will be reviewed in January 2026.