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R v Shaw


The applicant was convicted of three offences of attempted murder committed on the same night. He had been at a party. After leaving he returned and hid under a bed to which a couple subsequently retired. From there he jumped out and attacked them with a knife or knives. When the householder heard the noise and came to try and help them, he rounded on her as well. All three victims received life-threatening stab wounds; these were brutal attacks.

The defendant was represented by both solicitors and counsel from the time of his arrest onwards. In accordance with good practice, counsel afterwards provided him with a full and careful written advice on the question of whether there existed any grounds of appeal. The advice was that there were none.

The defendant nevertheless submitted grounds of his own devising. Most of them consisted of complaints, which turned out to be entirely misguided, about his counsel. Counsel provided a further written response which more than fully explained why the defendant's complaints were misconceived.

The defendant then elected nevertheless to pursue his own grounds. The single judge concluded that there was nothing arguable about any of them.

Notwithstanding that, the defendant renewed his application to the full court.

The issue in the case was who had done it. The defendant said that he had gone home to bed and that the attacker must have been somebody else. The evidence to the contrary which convinced the jury included this:

1. Both the female victims had spent the whole evening with him, they knew him and they said it was him. They had also contemporaneously screamed his nickname whilst under attack.
2. He was of distinctive appearance. He had his nickname tattooed on his neck and a noticeable false tooth on a plate.
3. Although the attacker had a tea towel around his face, at least initially, it was a tea towel of identical appearance to others in the defendant's kitchen. Of course plenty of other people may well have similar tea towels, but it would be a remarkable coincidence for one of those other people to be the person who mounted an attack at a party which the defendant had himself attended, and no other person with a tea towel similar was really very likely to have the nickname tattooed on the neck.
4. Although there were no scientific traces on the two knives which had been used to inflict the stab wounds, DNA matching the defendant was found on two more knives abandoned in the yard of the house. The defendant's explanation that he might have touched them when looking in a drawer for a bottle opener was plainly rejected by the jury.
5. Although the defendant said he had gone home before midnight, his neighbour remembered very well that he had not come home until 2 o'clock in the morning which was a time consistent with his having conducted the attack and then gone home.
6. The attacker had escaped over a fence. The defendant had fresh grazes on his arms, such as the fence would have caused. His explanation, which was that he had climbed the fence on some other occasion, was convenient but improbable. The coincidence was a powerful piece of evidence.

The defendant complained that his trial went too quickly; it was originally estimated to take four days and it did take four days. He complained that the scientific evidence was agreed and not challenged. It was a deliberate decision reached in consultation with him and was very much in his interests. It would have been contrary to his interests to have required the scientist to be called in order to point out to him that there was nothing on the first two knives. The scientist would undoubtedly and correctly have replied that the absence of evidence is no evidence of absence, particularly since those knives had been heavily contaminated with the blood and body fluids of the victims. Quite apart from that, according to one of the victims the attacker was wearing gloves. The defendant's assertion that the scientists had suggested that gloves had been worn was simply inaccurate. Moreover the defence team had instructed an independent scientist to check the analysis of the DNA on the other knives. It was quite impossible in the defendant's interest to call him because if he had been called he would have said that it was highly improbable that the defendant's suggested innocent explanation about the drawer and the bottle opener could account for the DNA to the extent that it was present.

The defendant complained that the identification evidence of the two female victims was unchallenged. That was simply wrong. It was challenged. It was correct to say that one of them had found a Facebook image of the defendant and had used it to point out to the police who it was she said had done it. That was all fully explored at the trial.

It was plain that this trial was entirely fair; the evidence was overwhelming. There were no arguable grounds for appeal.

In refusing the application the court commented: “The defendant has now been told this by three separate sets of people. We have to say that the renewal of this application is wholly unrealistic, if not actively vexatious. It savours most of a man who believes he has nothing to lose. It has taken no little time and effort on the part of counsel, the Criminal Appeal Office and now four different judges to deal with what has been, we are afraid, a pointless application. Judges should not complain about the waste of their time because that is what they are here to give, but it is an unhappy consequence of this kind of case that other deserving cases will have had to wait behind it in the long queue of about 7,000 applications each year which this court receives and that is unfair to them.

In this situation we would ordinarily have ordered that some limited period of the time spent in prison awaiting the determination of this application should not count towards sentence. However, this defendant received a sentence of imprisonment for public protection, that is to say an indefinite sentence, with a minimum term of no less than 14 years. That is because he appears to be a highly dangerous man with a long history of very serious violence. The result of that is that it is distinctly possible that he will not be safe to be released even when his minimum term is completed, although that of course is a question for the Parole Board and not for us.

It is accordingly pointless in a case like this to order that a limited period should not count and we decline to do so. What, however, the application does demonstrate is that despite the very clear fact that the defendant is both guilty and dangerous, he is unable to accept it and instead advances utterly unrealistic statements to dispute it. That may or may not turn out to be relevant when the time comes to confront the question of whether he is safe to be released in the public interest, either at the end of his minimum term or at any time thereafter. In case it is, and we do not know whether it is or is not, we direct that this judgment be placed with his prison papers, accompany him wherever he goes and be made available to the Parole Board in case it is of any assistance”.

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