Wellingborough killers lose appeal over time they'll spend behind bars
They argued that legislation brought in between their conviction and sentencing unfairly affected them
Three Wellingborough men who were convicted of a fatal botched robbery have lost an appeal over the amount of time they'll spend locked up.
Sifean Ghilani, Levar Thomas and Tristan Patel were all sentenced to more than a decade in a young offender institution for manslaughter and conspiracy to rob after Stevie Pentelow was stabbed to death in a drug deal gone wrong in Little Harrowden.
They should have been sentenced at Northampton Crown Court on March 20 last year, but they did not find out their fate until April 23 because a prosecuting barrister had to self-isolate as the Covid pandemic started.
And because of legislation brought in on April 1 - which made the most serious criminals automatically serve two-thirds of their sentence instead of half - that delay meant they would have to serve roughly two years more in custody than they would had they been sentenced when they originally should have been.
They appealed against their sentence saying the delay had unfairly affected them - but last week appeal judges at London's Royal Courts of Justice dismissed their bid.
The court heard The Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2020 came into force at the start of April, between the trio's conviction and sentencing hearings, intending to punish the most serious criminals by effectively making them serve an extra one-sixth of their sentence in custody.
Barristers representing the Wellingborough killers said the sentencing delay, and subsequent impact of the new legislation, was "manifestly unfair" and that they would suffer through no fault of their own.
They said it was a breach of a "legitimate expectation" that they would be sentenced before April 1 and be eligible for release midway through their sentence, and questioned whether His Honour Judge Rupert Mayo should have taken the impact of the new order into account when he sentenced them.
In his sentencing remarks at the time, Judge Mayo indicated that it wasn't clear whether the new legislation applied and told the killers they would serve two-thirds if it did, and half if it didn't.
The court heard that when it became clear the new order did apply he was invited to review the sentence under the 'slip rule', where a decision can be re-opened to correct an accidental error.
But he declined to do so, saying there was no error to correct.
He said: "In calculating the total sentence for each defendant, I set the lengths thereof as those which I considered to be just and proportionate to the offending, and the date of release is a matter for the executive not the courts.
"The courts conventionally take no account of release provisions when deciding the appropriate sentence."
And his decision was backed by appeal judges in London.
They ruled: "This was entirely the correct approach. The sole ground of appeal is that the judge should have taken account of the impact of the 2020 order. For the reasons we have given we dismiss the appeal."
Ghilani had arranged to buy drugs from Stevie in a lay-by in Main Street, Little Harrowden, on June 21, 2019.
But on the way he, Patel and Thomas stopped in Denford for about 20 minutes and hatched a plan to ambush Stevie and rob him.
When they got to Little Harrowden Ghilani fatally stabbed him in the heart in an attack that lasted just seconds.
Stevie was seen on CCTV staggering away from the group. Two figures identified as Patel and Ghilani were seen pursuing him before running back towards their car, where Thomas then drove them away at speed.
The trio were cleared of murder but were found guilty of manslaughter and conspiracy to rob.
Ghilani, then aged 20 and of Winstanley Road, was sentenced to 12 years and four months. He will serve about 99 months in custody for manslaughter, compared to the 74 he would have served if he was sentenced before April 1.
Patel, then aged 18 and of Newcomen Road, was sentenced to 11 years and six months. He will serve 92 months in custody for manslaughter, compared to the 69 he would have served under previous legislation.
Thomas, then aged 21 and of Knox Road, was sentenced to 11 years and three months. He will serve 90 months behind bars for manslaughter, compared to the 67-and-a-half months he would have served if he was sentenced before April.
Appeal judges ruled: "It would defeat the statutory purpose of the early release provisions if their effect were ordinarily to be taken into account when passing sentence.
"The clear intention underpinning the 2020 order...is that, where it applies, the offender should, before being entitled to release, serve a further one-sixth of the sentence than was previously the case.
"If the sentencing judge reduced the length of sentence to reflect the harsher effect of the early release provisions then that would directly undermine the legislative purpose."