Murderer's prison term is reduced

An aggrieved tenant who stabbed his sleeping landlord to death at his Eastbourne home has won a three-year reduction in the minimum period he must spend behind bars for the murder.

Philip Hughes, 44, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court last July of the murder of 67-year-old Harold 'Ken' Whittall, at his home in Whitley Road, and was jailed for life.

He was ordered to serve at least 20 years before even applying for parole, but after an appeal to three top judges at the Criminal Appeal Court in London, that term was reduced to 17 years.

Mr Justice Hedley, who sat with Lord Justice Keene and Judge Hall, said the trial judge had wrongly regarded certain facts of the case as aggravating its seriousness and so imposed a minimum term that was too long.

Today's decision means Hughes will have to serve at least 17 years before applying for release and will only be granted his freedom if he can convince the Parole Board he is safe enough to live in the community.

Giving the judgment, the judge outlined the facts of the brutal murder, which was thought to have taken place after Mr Whittall asked Hughes to leave the home which they shared.

After consuming a large quantity of alcohol, he took a knife from the kitchen, walked into Mr Whittall's bedroom and, as he lay asleep, stabbed him several times in the chest.

Hughes called emergency services in an attempt to save his landlord, but Mr Whittall did not regain consciousness before dying.

When setting Hughes' minimum term, the Crown Court judge said he would take a starting point of 15 years and add five more years to take account of the aggravating features of the offence.

These included the fact that the victim was far older than his killer, was vulnerable in that he was asleep and unable to defend himself, that Hughes had taken a knife deliberately and that he had intended to kill.

Barrister Julian Dale, representing Hughes, argued the judge had been wrong to consider all of those matters as aggravating the murder.

The fact that the victim was asleep, in particular, should not have been taken account of as aggravation, he told the judges.

Allowing the appeal, Mr Justice Hedley said, "In the circumstances, Mr Dale succeeds in persuading us that the judge was in error in taking so high a minimum term on the basis of the aggravating factors that he was entitled to take into account.

"That said, that must immediately be qualified by the entitlement of a judge, who has presided over a trial, to form a view about the aggravating factors he is entitled to take into account.

"It is our view that the learned judge was well entitled to come to the conclusion that the starting point of 15 years could properly be exceeded in this case, but, as we have said, we are persuaded that he exceeded it by too much."

When, and if, he is released, Hughes will remain on licence for the rest of his days, subject to immediate return to prison if he puts a foot wrong.