Killer of Somerset student should be given life imprisonment, Court of Appeal hears

Barnaby Webber who died during the Nottingham attacks in June 2023
Barnaby Webber, from Taunton, who died during the Nottingham attacks in June 2023 -Credit:PA

A man who killed a 19-year-old student from Somerset, along with two others, in a spate of attacks in Nottingham last year, should have his sentence changed to one of life imprisonment, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Valdo Calocane was given an indefinite hospital order after admitting the manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility of Barnaby Webber, from Taunton, Somerset, as well as Grace O'Malley-Kumar and Ian Coates, and the attempted murder of three others, last June.

Prosecutors accepted the 32-year-old's not guilty pleas to murder charges at his sentencing hearing in January, after medical evidence showed he has paranoid schizophrenia. But Attorney General Victoria Prentis referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal in February, with lawyers telling a hearing on Wednesday that it was "unduly lenient".

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Deanna Heer KC, representing the Attorney General's Office (AGO), said Calocane should instead be given a life sentence as part of a "hybrid" order, where he would be treated in hospital before serving the remainder of his sentence in prison.

She said: "The exceptional level of seriousness of the offences was such that the case required the imposition of a sentence with a penal element, an element of punishment. The harm caused and the harm risked to members of the public by his crimes was extreme."

Several members of the victims' families and friends - including Barnaby Webber's father, David - attended the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, while Calocane attended via video link from Ashworth high-security hospital near Liverpool.

The Court of Appeal heard today (Weds) that Calocane should have his sentence changed to one of life imprisonment
The Court of Appeal heard on Wednesday, May 8, that Calocane should have his sentence changed to one of life imprisonment -Credit:Nottinghamshire Police

He fatally stabbed 19-year-old university students Mr Webber and Ms O'Malley-Kumar, 10 and 23 times respectively, as they walked home from a night-out in the early hours of June 13 last year, in what prosecutors described as an "uncompromisingly brutal" attack.

He then went on to stab Mr Coates, a 65-year-old school caretaker, 15 times, and stole his van which he used to knock down three pedestrians - Wayne Birkett, Marcin Gawronski, and Sharon Miller - in Nottingham city centre before being arrested. He declined to give toxicology samples and gave no comment in police interview.

Calocane's sentencing hearing was told that multiple medical experts concluded he had paranoid schizophrenia, with the court hearing he had several interactions with mental health services in the months before the attacks.

He was sentenced by Mr Justice Turner to an indefinite hospital order and made subject to further restrictions if he is ever discharged, which must be approved by the Justice Secretary. One expert, Dr Nigel Blackwood, said the attacks were "entirely driven" by psychosis, and that he was in "a severe psychotic episode" at the time.

Dr Blackwood, a professor of forensic psychiatry at King's College London, also raised concerns that Calocane's mental condition was treatment-resistant, and that he had a "significant concern" about Calocane being given a hybrid sentence.

He said of Calocane: "He has shown a profound lack of insight into the fact that he has an illness. Were he to stop taking medication in prison, there is a significant risk of lethal behaviours returning, whether against prison officers or fellow inmates."

In written submissions, the AGO said: "The learned judge failed to give sufficient weight to the evidence that the offender's culpability was not extinguished. Whilst it is accepted that his ability to exercise self-control and form a rational judgment was substantially impaired, he understood the nature of his conduct and that it was wrong, even in the context of his psychotic beliefs.

"Having identified that the offender's culpability was low, the learned judge failed to consider the aggravating features which required an uplift from the starting point for a single offence. As a result, although the learned judge made a significant uplift to reflect totality, the custodial term failed adequately to reflect the seriousness of the offending."

Calocane would not have committed his crimes if he had not been suffering from his mental health condition, his barrister told the Court of Appeal.

Peter Joyce KC said: "What is plain is that any planning took place under the influence of the psychosis." He added that "but for the psychosis, these offences, none of them, would have been committed".

The lawyer said Calocane had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia since 2019, and was formally diagnosed in 2020.

"There is no concoction here at all," he said, adding: "He was stricken by this dreadful condition through absolutely no fault of his own. He didn't cause it to happen to him by taking drugs. He didn't cause it to happen to him by his behaviour. He didn't cause it to happen to him by taking alcohol."

If judges rule that a hybrid order should be imposed, they will set the length of time which Calocane should be in custody, with his release then governed by the Parole Board.

The hearing before the Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr, Lord Justice Edis, and Mr Justice Garnham, is set to conclude on Wednesday, with a judgment due at a later date. At the end of the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr, sitting with Lord Justice Edis and Mr Justice Garnham, said they hoped to give their decision within seven days.

She said: "This has been a short but very effective hearing. We are going to reserve our decision and our judgment, but obviously we recognise how extremely distressing this case is for all concerned. What we hope to be able to do is to hand down judgment within seven days or so." Baroness Carr said she also recognised the "acute anxiety and distress involved in this very, very tragic case".