Notes on Valdo Calocane and the Attorney General

From a press release from Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General:

Valdo Calocane’s crimes were horrific and have shocked a nation. He brutally killed three innocent people, and violently attacked three other victims. Their experiences will stay in our minds for a long time to come.

This was a case that evoked strong feelings amongst so many people and it was no surprise that I received so many referrals under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme to consider the Hospital Order handed to Calocane.

My duty as a Law Officer in considering whether sentences may be unduly lenient is to act independently of government, even when it is not easy or popular.

Having received detailed legal advice and considered the issues raised very carefully, I have concluded that the sentence imposed against Calocane, for the offences of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and attempted murder, was unduly lenient and will be referred to the Court of Appeal.

It seems odd to make a general reference to decisions that are “not easy or popular” when the specific decision being announced happens to be extremely popular and is doubtless also helpful to the government in projecting a “tough on crime” image. The case as to why “the CPS and the judge made the right decisions” has been laid out in some detail by Matthew Scott here; we don’t yet know the grounds on which Prentis has taken a different view.

On the face of it, Calocane’s conviction is in line with other cases: for instance, here’s one from last year:

A schizophrenic who killed and then dismembered a woman at her home has been sentenced to an indefinite hospital order.

Luke Deeley, 26, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of June Fox-Roberts, 65, by reason of diminished responsibility.

Deeley attempted to clean up the scene and to change his appearance – evidence of rational decision-making to evade capture, comparable to Calocane’s planning before his attacks and his coherent phone calls to a relative afterwards.

Given that Prentis does not seem to be concerned about Deeley’s sentencing, it seems reasonable to infer that her interventon in the case of Calocane is media driven. The scale of his violence indeed “shocked a nation”; young photogenic victims were involved; and there is much public sympathy for the bitter complaints of bereaved relatives.  There has also been angry and opportunistic commentary on social media, such as this example from GB News’s Darren Grimes (1):

…It’s enough to make you wonder, what’s it going to take for the system to wake up and smell the coffee? When are we going to start putting the victims first, instead of tiptoeing around the perpetrators? It’s high time for a change, and it can’t come soon enough. This isn’t justice; it’s a joke. A cruel, heartless verdict for those who’ve already suffered enough.

Faced with this sort of thing, it would not have been “easy or popular” for Prentice to have backed the trial judge.

The allegedly “unduly lenient” sentencing is tied up with the fact that Calocane was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, even though it is difficult to envisage different sentencing outcomes. One can appreciate, though, that relatives who regard Calocane as a murderer want him to be officially recognised as such, both on princple and given a hypothetical but fantastically improbable route to early release that has been hyped by segements of the media (Daily Mail: “Nottingham killer Valdo Calocane could be eligible for release in THREE YEARS under terms of hospital order”).

On this point, I do wonder about the implication that Calocane’s medical history means that he was inherently incapable of committing a random murder. One of the psychiatric experts judged that “it seems likely that Mr Calocane’s decision-making was largely governed by his psychotic experiences”, but that “seems likely” gives a lot of leeway – we don’t know exactly what he thought he was doing that night. Delusional belief is not in itself a bar to being convicted of murder: Danyal Hussein, for instance, was convicted of murder for killing two women apparently (2) in the belief that doing so would seal a demonic pact that would allow him to win the lottery. A random attack motivated by anger or frustration can also be murder. I’m open to the suggestion that Calocane’s general volatility (he had previously assaulted co-workers), rather than psychosis, motivated him – but could that ever be proven in court, given his diagnosis? (3) Sometimes justice is less than satisfactory because it cannot served fully, rather than because wrong decisions were taken. (4)

Notes

1. There was also heightened public interest in the case over an early assumption that this was a terror attack, which on social media has segued into gratuitous discussion of his ethnic background and immigration status. Thus Grimes pointedly refers to “Valdo Calocane, of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa” – a reference to his early childhood origins, rather than his a settled status in the UK as a Portguese citizen.

2. Hussein’s account was taken at face value, although why did he have to kill women specifically? It is reasonable to suspect banal mysogyny underlying the esoterism.

3. I think here of Robert Napper, who was convicted of manslaughter after he was belatedly found to be Rachel Nickell’s killer. However, his history of mental illness had not precluded him from being convicted of murdering a different young mother, along with her child.

4. It seems contradictory that Calocone was also found guilty of attempted murder, but had he been successful this would have been yet more manslaughter. Presumably this was the only way to deal with it given that “attempted manslaughter” is a nonsensical concept.