Belfast Telegraph

OAP killer's jail term will need scrutinised

Editor's Viewpoint

Pensioner Eddie Girvan was the victim of a horrific crime and must have suffered terribly before he died. He had been stabbed twice and gagged - either would have resulted in his death.

The judge, the person best placed to know all about the 67-year-old's final moments - apart from the woman who killed him - painted a distressing picture of his agonising death.

But those who were not in court and privy to all the evidence in the case will wonder why that woman ended up with a three-year jail sentence and another three on licence.

This was a woman with a propensity for violence - assaults featured frequently among the 100 crimes on her record. She had drug problems and after killing the pensioner she fled in his car and was involved in a hit-and-run incident. It was this which led police to discover Mr Girvan's body.

But it has to be remembered that judges are bound by detailed and quite prescriptive guidelines when it comes to sentencing.

They must take into account mitigating factors such as early pleas, co-operation with police and remorse if expressed. Those of course have to be balanced against the amount of force used and the intent of the person involved.

The woman in this case did plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and that plea was accepted by the prosecution. The court also heard of her own troubled background including the tragic cot death of her daughter.

But even taking all these factors into account, there remains an impression in the public mind that the scales of justice in this case were unbalanced.

Who was there to speak up for Mr Girvan? He may have had a sex-for-money relationship with his killer but stranger things than that happen behind closed doors.

He was a man liked by those who knew him and they feel the sentence imposed was too lenient.

That will always be a matter of debate.

However, the Executive and its justice scrutiny committee, whenever they return to office, can examine sentencing tariffs and decide if they need to be more severe in cases where people, especially the elderly and vulnerable, are killed or seriously injured.

Judges of course must have discretion, but there is also a duty on legislators to assure people who feel at risk that the law is there to protect them.

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