If there was ever an example of misguided compassion, this story out of Britain must rank at the top of the list:
A psychopathic Satanist, given a ‘life means life’ sentence for strangling his cellmate whilst already serving life for murder, has had that cut to 20 years on appeal in order ‘to give him light at the end of the tunnel’.
The move came despite the admission that double killer Clement McNally described the murder as ‘better than sex’ and revealed he would kill again if the opportunity arose.
Father-of-one Anthony Hesketh, of Eastham Way, Worsley, who was in custody for a driving offence and facing drugs charges, was strangled with a T-shirt in September 2003. He was found dead on the floor of the Strangeways cell he shared with McNally.
McNally, 34 – a devil worshipper who decorated his cell with satanic symbols and suffers from ‘psychopathic, narcissistic, paranoid and obsessive-compulsive disorders, all mixed together’ – was serving a mandatory life term for stabbing to death his friend, Arthur Skelly, outside a party in Ashton-under-Lyne in July 2002.
He was given a life term, with a whole life tariff, for the second killing, after pleading guilty to manslaughter by way of diminished responsibility at Manchester Crown Court on July 12 2004.
But now the minimum term on his life sentence has been slashed to 20 years by Lord Justice Hughes, at London’s Criminal Appeal Court. The judge said it was not right that McNally should be denied a light at the end of the tunnel and never have a chance of release.
Lord Justice Hughes, sitting with Mr Justice MacKay and Mr Justice Davis, said of Mr Hesketh’s killing: ‘McNally had no particular grievance against his victim – he simply suffered an urge to kill him.
‘He said it was exciting – better than sex. He said Satan told him to do things and it was his job to do as he was told.
‘He said he was not in the least bit sorry for what he had done, but had derived a great deal of pleasure from subsequently thinking about it.
‘He suffers from compulsive homicidal urges and poses an exceptional risk to other prisoners. He made it perfectly clear that he would kill again if the opportunity arose and the urge to kill was of sufficient intensity.’
However the judge said it was wrong not to give McNally the chance of being freed if, at some point in the future, his mental state stabilises to the extent that the authorities no longer consider him a danger to society.
He told the court: ‘The life sentence was plainly correct as he was likely to represent a danger of the gravest kind, for a period which could not be determined.
‘However the imposition of a whole life tariff was a mistaken application of the process of sentencing.
‘The life sentence itself is designed to cater for a prisoner in whom it cannot be seen when, or if ever, they will cease to be a danger to the public.
It’s amazing how the judge doesn’t seem to realize that, for a man who murdered two people in cold blood, maybe a life without “a light at the end of the tunnel” is just the right prescription.
Maybe this is just the pendulum swinging. England used to hang children for stealing a loaf of bread. Now it freely contemplates giving a second start to an unusually cold-blooded killer. I would suggest, though, that the fact that England was disproportionately punitive 200 years ago doesn’t mean it needs to be disproportionately . . . well, compassion isn’t the right word, because some innocent always gets hurt . . . but disproportionately stupid now.