Four years too short for “one-punch” killing

Front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper, showing the paper's logo in white on a red background in the top left, showing a black man punching a white man in the face with the caption "1 Punch, 1 Life, Just 4 Years Jail"It’s been reported recently that a man who killed a man with one punch on a street in Bournemouth has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison (see also today’s Daily Mirror), which means he will likely be released in half that time. Lewis Gill punched Andrew Young in the face after the latter had argued with Gill’s friend, Victor Ibitoye, over cycling on the pavement; he fell back and hit his head on the road, and died the next day in hospital. Gill claimed that Young had made a racist remark (Young is white, Gill and Ibitoye are black) and that he felt “threatened” as Young put his hand in his pocket, assuming that he intended to draw a weapon. He was given two additional three-month terms because he offended while on a suspended sentence for robbery and handling stolen goods. The Attorney General is considering reviewing the sentence. (The Mirror’s story also has CCTV footage of the attack.)

The press reports describe Young as “suffering” from Asperger’s syndrome, which is not an accurate term; people with Asperger’s (and most forms of autism) do not ‘suffer’ from it; rather it causes difficulties in dealing with social situations, change and stress. In this case his mother thinks he may have challenged the cyclist because “he was very precise and particular because of his Asperger’s and he wouldn’t have liked seeing someone riding a bicycle on the pavement because it was dangerous”. Gill, of course, may not have entertained this idea; he saw an irritating man who had challenged his friend and caused him inconvenience. A taxi driver who knew him said he was “gentle and wouldn’t hurt a fly” and that he would often strike up conversations with strangers at the bus stop. Nobody comments on whether he would or would not have made the racist remark attributed to him, and it appears witnesses were not called to confirm or deny this. The CCTV footage also makes it impossible to see what Young might have been saying.

Regardless of that, it needs to be made clear that using violence to settle petty personal disputes is not acceptable, and this needs to start from home and be continued through school — there must be no “he mouthed me off” defence. Boys learn that it is OK to answer a slight with violence, and develop a sense of entitlement that they should not be annoyed, and when they become fully-grown men, they don’t realise that doing that to someone can kill them. While the crime was not murder because he did not intend to kill (and the level of violence used does not normally, unlike hitting someone over the head with a blunt instrument or stabbing them), it was a serious crime committed out of arrogance and petty annoyance. He should have got twice that sentence, at least, particularly as he is clearly a serial violent offender.

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