29th Jun, 2022

Judge rejects increasing sentence for driver who ran over Coventry PC Burnham

Despite the case being referred to the Court of Appeal as ‘unduly lenient,’ a judge has rejected an opportunity to increase the sentence he passed on the driver who injured Coventry police officer Christopher Burnham while trying to escape arrest.

Tekle Lennox had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to causing grievous bodily harm to Pc Burnham with intent to resist arrest – having originally being charged with attempted murder.

Lennox (37) of no fixed address, was jailed for seven years last month – with a further four months for possessing crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis, which he had also admitted.

But at a further hearing Judge Peter Cooke was asked to review the basis of his sentencing under what is known as the ‘slip rule’ under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act.

Prosecutor Andrew Smith QC said the application was made because, under the 2018 Assaults on Emergency Workers Act, the judge should have specifically said the offence was aggravated by the person injured being an emergency worker, if he was sentencing on that basis.

Lennox was not at the hearing, but Mr Smith said he did not believe that would matter if the judge had taken account of the aggravating feature without specifically referring to it.

“The alternative is that if I am wrong and Your Honour says ‘it was not a matter I had regard to and I should reconsider my sentence,’ then Mr Lennox should be present,” he suggested.

Judge Cooke agreed: “It is an obligation… to find the fact of it being an emergency worker is an aggravating factor which increases the seriousness of the offence, and it must be declared in court.”

And he observed: “One can’t ignore the elephant in the room, that yesterday I received a letter informing me of an Attorney General’s reference on the basis that my sentence was unduly lenient.”

Bernard Tetlow QC, defending, said the judge had ‘very clearly’ treated the fact that Pc Burnham was a police officer as an aggravating factor.

“The fact that a victim was a police officer has always been an aggravating feature, it’s just that it has now been enshrined in statute. The only difference is that it has to be referred to as such,” he added.

Agreeing that ‘the declaration needs to be made,’ Judge Cooke said: “If, as here, one has a person conducting himself with an absolute determination to get away from the police, thereby creating a severe risk that he will injure someone, it’s a matter of luck whether the injured person is a civilian pedestrian or a serving police officer pedestrian.

“This application to revisit the question of the sentencing of Tekle Lennox is made by the prosecution under what is commonly known as the slip rule.

“Although the sentencing hearing proceeded with repeated reference to police constable Christopher Burnham’s status as an emergency worker, that status was not specifically stated [as an aggravating feature].

“That is not to say that his status as a serving police officer doing his duty was not very much at the forefront of my mind when making the decision on how to deal with the sentence.

“I make the declaration overtly that of course Pc Burnham was an emergency worker acting in the exercise of his duty at the time he was sadly to receive grave injury.

“Parliament obliges me to record that status as an aggravating feature. I did so, albeit not with express reference to the sentencing principle.

“None of us lost sight at any stage that Pc Burnham was a serving police officer acting in the exercise of his duty, and that serves to aggravate, to some extent, the seriousness of the offence.

“I took the view, and I hold by it, that from the moment he embarked on his attempt to evade the police while negotiating the roundabout at some speed, given the tightness of the turn, he was necessarily acting with a very high degree of recklessness of the danger of encountering some person.

“Whether that person would be an emergency worker, or a member of the public, or the driver of a vehicle, or a cyclist or a pedestrian was purely a matter of luck. As it was, it was one of the officers who had been pursuing him.

“It was a matter of pure luck it turned out to be an officer rather than a citizen, although that it was an officer was eminently foreseeable.

“I very much bore Pc Burnham’s status in mind when deciding the appropriate sentence, [but] if called on to quantify any level of aggravation, I would declare it was ‘de minimis.’

“For that reason I do not propose a substantive variation of the sentence I imposed.”

At the original hearing Mr Smith said that on September 25 last year Pc Lucy Dilley, who was driving, and Pc Burnham were on patrol in a marked police Vauxhall Corsa when they saw Lennox, who was wanted, driving a cream-coloured Mini in Foleshill Road.

Pc Lilley put on their blue lights, but Lennox continued into Lockhurst Lane towards the roundabout at the junction with Burnaby Road, where he got stuck in heavy traffic with the police car immediately behind him.

The Mini’s reversing lights suddenly came on, and at that Pc Burnham jumped out of the police car to approach it in foot, but Lennox then went forward and headed round the island.

Pc Burnham changed direction and as he ran past a white van, the Mini, having gone round the roundabout at speed, emerged from round the back of the van.

There was no time for either Lennox or the officer to react, and Pc Burnham was thrown onto the bonnet, hitting his head on the windscreen, and was carried for 42 metres before falling off as Lennox continued to drive off into Burnaby Road before then abandoning the car.

As a result, Pc Burnham had a badly-fractured left knee and a complex skull fracture, and he was put into an induced coma as he remained in the intensive therapy unit until October 4.

Before sentencing him, Judge Cooke observed that he had received a letter from Lennox in which he said: “It was my fault entirely, and I hope Pc Burnham and his family can forgive me.”

At a future hearing as a result of the Attorney General’s reference, the Court of Appeal will consider whether the judge’s seven-year sentence was ‘unduly lenient.’

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