Rigby killer appeals over sentence

Times Series: Michael Adebolajo has launched an appeal against his whole-life prison sentence for the murder of soldier Lee Rigby (Metropolitan Police) Michael Adebolajo has launched an appeal against his whole-life prison sentence for the murder of soldier Lee Rigby (Metropolitan Police)

One of the two murderers of soldier Lee Rigby has launched an appeal against his whole-life prison term, the Judicial Office confirmed today.

Michael Adebolajo was sentenced at the Old Bailey in February alongside Michael Adebowale, who was jailed for life with a minimum term of 45 years.

The pair were sentenced by Mr Justice Sweeney for butchering the 25-year-old father of one in broad daylight near Woolwich Barracks in south east London on May 22 last year.

Heartbroken relatives of Fusilier Rigby said "'justice has been served" after Adebolajo was given the whole-life term, which condemns him to die behind bars.

When announcing the sentences, Mr Justice Sweeney told Adebolajo and Adebowale: "You each converted to Islam some years ago. Thereafter you were radicalised and each became an extremist, espousing a cause and views which, as has been said elsewhere, are a betrayal of Islam and of the peaceful Muslim communities who give so much to our country."

He went on: " You decided between you, and in order to advance your extremist cause, to murder a soldier in public in broad daylight and to do so in a way that would generate maximum media coverage, including getting yourselves killed by armed officers who would be bound to attend the scene in the aftermath of the murder - thereby expecting that you would become martyrs and each gain a place in paradise."

Adebolajo and Adebowale chose the young soldier as their victim because he was wearing a Help for Heroes hooded top, mowing him down in a car before hacking at his limp body with a meat cleaver and knives in an attempt to decapitate him.

Explaining his decision to give Adebolajo a whole-life term, the judge said the 29-year-old, who has two children and four stepchildren, was the leader of the murderous plot and had "no real prospect of rehabilitation".

However, 22-year-old Adebowale's younger age, mental health problems and "lesser role" meant that he escaped spending the rest of his natural life behind bars.

Whole-life terms came under the spotlight recently when leading judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that murderers who commit the most "heinous" of crimes can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.

A specially-constituted court declared that sentencing judges can continue to impose " whole-life" tariffs in such cases.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said the court had held that the statutory scheme enacted by Parliament which enabled judges to pass whole-life orders was "entirely compatible" with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sentencing in a number of high-profile criminal cases had been put on hold - including the terms to be handed out to Fusilier Rigby's murderers - pending the Court of Appeal's ruling, which was given in February.

The ruling followed a successful appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore.

Last July the ECHR held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European on Human Rights - which relates to inhuman and degrading treatment - on the basis that whole-life orders were not "reducible".

The Strasbourg-based court did not say that whole-life sentences were incompatib e with the Convention, but that there had to be the possibility of a review at some stage and that current laws allowing for release in exceptional circumstances were unclear.

But the Court of Appeal judges ruled that the Grand Chamber was wrong when it reached a conclusion that the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide for "reducibility", saying that the domestic law "is clear as to 'possible exceptional release of whole-life prisoners'".

A power of review arose if there were "exceptional circumstances". An offender was required to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that, although a whole-life order was just punishment at the time the order was made, exceptional circumstances had arisen since.

The Secretary of State "must then consider whether such exceptional circumstances justify the release on compassionate grounds".

Lord Thomas concluded: "In our judgment, the law of England and Wales therefore does provide to an offender 'hope' or the 'possibility' of release in exceptional circumstances which render the just punishment originally imposed no longer justifiable."

On whole-life orders in general, Lord Thomas said the Court of Appeal did not read the Grand Chamber's judgment "as in any way casting doubt on the fact that there are crimes that are so heinous that just punishment may require imprisonment for life".

Those currently serving whole-life terms in England and Wales include Moors Murderer Ian Brady, who tortured and murdered children along with accomplice Myra Hindley, and serial killer Rosemary West.

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