A group of MPs have raised concern about the length of the jail sentence given to a man convicted of killing his wife five days into the first UK lockdown.
Labour’s Harriet Harman, Jess Phillips and Alex Davies-Jones have called for Anthony Williams’s five-year prison term for manslaughter to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal for being “unduly lenient”.
All three have written to Attorney General Suella Braverman asking for the case to be passed to England and Wales’s second-highest court, with Ms Davies-Jones also expressing concern about the use of Williams’s depression in his defence against a more serious charge of murder.
Williams, 70, admitted choking to death his wife Ruth, 67, at their home in Cwmbran, south Wales, on March 28 last year after he “snapped”, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
I have today referred the 5 year sentence of Anthony Williams for killing his wife Ruth Williams to the Attorney General @SuellaBraverman asking for her to refer it for review as an Unduly Lenient Sentence pic.twitter.com/iUuczM1P4w
— Harriet Harman (@HarrietHarman) February 19, 2021
He was cleared of murder by a jury, with trial judge Paul Thomas saying at his sentencing on Thursday that in his view Williams’s mental state was “severely affected at the time” due to suffering severe depression and anxiety.
The trial heard from a psychologist who argued Williams’s anxiety “was heightened” because of lockdown, which impaired his ability to exercise self-control.
Ms Harman, who served as solicitor general between 2001 and 2005, said she hopes the case will be referred to the Court of Appeal, and that it will lead to an increase in Williams’s sentence.
But she also criticised what she said was a “loophole” in the law which allowed Williams’s defence barrister to argue against being convicted of murder.
Ms Harman told the PA news agency: “I hope that this will be referred to the Court of Appeal and I hope that the Court of Appeal will increase the sentence.
“The fundamental problem is that this shows a fault line in the murder/manslaughter charging. There’s a loophole in the law, a fundamental flaw, which gives excuses to a man who kills his wife, which he would never get away with if he killed his neighbour.
“If he went out in the street and killed a neighbour, there would be no question of him facing a murder charge. You get a discount for it being your wife and you get a discount for it being in her own home where she should feel safe.”
Ms Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, said she is concerned Williams will only serve two-and-a-half years in custody and the other half of his sentence on licence, less the time he has already spent on remand since he was charged.
She told PA: “So actually, we’re looking at somebody serving around 18 months in prison when there is a woman who is dead.
“The areas in which I think this case needs to be examined are the difference between how men and women pleading such a defence of diminished responsibility are managed, and the way that plays out, specifically in cases of alleged domestic murder.
“I want some assurances as somebody who is always seeking to improve criminal justice outcomes for victims of domestic violence, about how this case was managed both by the courts, but also by the Crown Prosecution Service.”
Ms Davies-Jones, MP for Pontypridd, told PA: “To me, the sentencing seems too lenient. It sends the wrong message, particularly when we’re at the time where domestic abuse, because of the Covid situation and lockdown, we have seen it increased to epic proportions.
“I’m worried the sentence could act as a catalyst, and we’re going to see even more extremes happening, with perpetrators thinking they have an excuse or a cover.”
Ms Davies-Jones also said she is concerned that Ms Braverman is due to go on maternity leave this month, with the Government yet to announce a replacement for her.
“It’s obviously going to have some implications, so I would like that addressed as well,” the MP added.
At Friday’s Welsh Government Covid-19 press briefing, First Minister Mark Drakeford said it was not “sensible” for him to comment on the case, but said he wanted to reassure anyone at risk of domestic abuse during lockdown that “services are there to help protect them”.
He said police forces were ready to intervene “when necessary” and that specialist services, which would include the Live Fear Free Helpline and Welsh Womens Aid, were also available.
“This is an issue that has been regularly highlighted during the whole of nearly 12 months, and I really want people in Wales to know if you yourself are in that position, or you think you know of somebody who may need that help, that help is there and there are ways you can get it.”