Sabine McNeill’s sentencing hearing on 19 December at Southwark Crown Court began an hour late due to another trial going overtime, with the result that the actual sentencing portion of the hearing had to be delayed until 9 January 2019.
Nonetheless, in a moving and emotional session, the court heard Victim Impact Statements from some of the victims who had testified during the trial. One was read to the court by a victim, while three were read by Miranda Moore QC, who prosecuted the case.
One member of the public gallery noted that two of Sabine’s friends seated ahead of them were snorting and shaking their heads during the reading of the impact statements. Sabine, meanwhile, kept her eyes closed
Further statements had been accepted from people who had been directly affected by Sabine’s actions. However, as these individuals lacked official standing to speak during the sentencing hearing, their impact statements were included in HHJ Sally Cahill QC’s bundle for her review.
Discussion on sentencing: Prosecution
Moore posited that the statutory provisions of five to 10 years for counts 1–4 (stalking) should be followed. On counts 5, 6, 8, 20, and 21 (breaches of restraining order), she noted that the maximum sentence for each offence was five years.
Judge Cahill also mentioned the “technical breach” committed in 2016, to which Sabine had pleaded guilty and had received a conditional discharge on 17 October 2016.
Regarding sentencing guidelines, Judge Cahill said that the court is obliged to follow these, unless to do so would be contrary to the interests of justice.
Moore reviewed a list taken from the sentencing guidelines. She pointed out the high degree of planning involved in Sabine’s crimes, and noted that her activities were persistent and for a prolonged period. As far as the harm caused, she stated that this falls into “Category 1”, which specified distress, psychological harm, and changes to the victim’s lifestyle.
Judge Cahill pondered whether she could consider counts 5 and upward as aggravating factors for counts 1–4 and sentence accordingly on 1–4, or whether she ought to sentence counts 1–4, with counts 5–21 sentenced consecutively.
Moore said she believed it should be the latter, given Sabine’s disregard for orders of the court, as well as the fact that her breaches were persistent, blatant, and prolonged. She pointed out that Sabine had been released on bail when breaches 20 and 21 occurred, which needs to be answered.
Moore pointed out aggravating factors, which included using a position of trust to facilitate the offence, as Sabine had been a McKenzie friend at the time when she posted the videos and medical records of young children.
During this discussion, Moore also mentioned that ongoing threatening or illegal posts from certain of Sabine’s supporters—names such as Angela Power-Disney, Andy Devine, and Thomas Dunn were mentioned—would be passed along to the judge.
On the issue of “good character”, Moore said that while Sabine had had no previous convictions, she suggested that Judge Cahill consider her previous actions in which ancillary orders had been set out. This must be for Judge Cahill to determine, she said.
Criminal behaviour order
Moore said that she had drafted a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) for Judge Cahill’s consideration.
Judge Cahill asked whether Moore had considered the possibility of imposing a lifetime ban from the internet. However, Moore pointed out that as the internet has become such an integral part of modern life, this had not been proposed. In addition, she said, it was claimed that the internet was a source of income for Sabine, in her role as a web publisher. Judge Cahill questioned this, however, as Sabine receives an old age pension.
It was further discussed whether Sabine should have access to internet, and whether provisions could be put in place to monitor this. Judge Cahill said that if Sabine were to be allowed access to the internet, strict control should be included over that access. Moore agreed to draft this into her proposed CBO.
It was agreed that the restraining order imposed by Judge Worsley should remain in place.
The first condition in the draft version of the CBO will require positive action regarding the take-down of the blogs and other material regarding the Hampstead matter and all those affected by it. The practicalities of this were discussed, and it was agreed that Sabine should provide logon details to facilitate this.
“It is now appropriate to act and remove everything”, Judge Cahill stated, adding that a timeline would be put in place for this to be accomplished. Following some discussion, it was agreed that Sabine’s defence counsel would begin the process, and that they would concurrently provide the passwords/sign-ins to the prosecution. This handover and take downs were to start immediately.
As it was so late it was agreed to postpone sentencing to 9 January. Moore said that she would require another 15 minutes, and Tana Adkin QC said she would require about an hour; it was decided that the remainder of the sentencing hearing should be accomplished in about half a day.