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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 12:22 GMT
Woolf denies 'charter for burglars'
Violent burglars will be sent to prison
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has defended his guidelines on the sentences for convicted burglars, saying they had been inaccurately interpreted.

His controversial guidelines issued last month reportedly advised trial judges that first-time, or even second-time, burglars should be spared prison and given community sentences.

Critics of Lord Woolf's guidelines have included the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Victims of Crime Trust.

Lord Woolf
If the inaccuracies stand uncorrected, the public will be left with a totally wrong impression as to the guidelines

Lord Woolf
In a statement on Tuesday the most senior judge in England and Wales responded to "inaccurate" comments made about the advice, saying the guidelines would help to cut offending and were not a "charter for burglars".

Lord Woolf said the principle was that the starting point for such offences should be a community sentence - though in many cases it would not be a practical option.

He said the purpose of Tuesday's statement was to correct inaccurate comments about the guidelines which were repeatedly being made.

Lord Woolf said: "It is wrongly suggested that the court is more concerned with the offenders than their victims.

"Some commentators have suggested that the court was dramatically altering the approach to the sentencing of domestic burglars.

"In fact, it was doing no more than changing the emphasis.

"It is a well-established approach to sentencing that an offender should only be sentenced to imprisonment when this is necessary and then for no longer than necessary."

Violent attacks

Lord Woolf was backed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, who said community sentences were often better than prison at preventing people from reoffending.

Both Lord Woolf and Lord Irvine stressed burglary remained a very serious offence and if there were aggravating features, such as violence against the occupant, a prison sentence would still be appropriate.

The new guidelines had prompted public criticism, with the Lords being criticised for being out of touch with public opinion.

The Lord Chief Justice maintained the advice was consistent.

The statement read: "The court, in adopting this approach, was not, as has been suggested, acting inconsistently with its approach to street robbery offences, particularly those involving mobile telephones.

"As stated in the judgment 'force used or threatened against the victim' is a high level aggravating factor.

"If violence is used or threatened, a community sentence for burglary is wholly inappropriate and a sentence of imprisonment is indicated."

Defensive move

Home Secretary David Blunkett said he was pleased Lord Woolf had clarified his position.

It was right that offenders who had committed a number of different types of crime should face custody rather than "simply being let off", he said.

"I think that's the right signal and I'm glad we clarified it," he added.

But Lord Woolf was accused of a going back on his word by critics.

Norman Brennan, of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "He's slightly backtracking but he hasn't really clarified anything. He's still putting the offenders first.

"This is just a political chess move to defend himself".

Earlier this month serial burglar Mark Patterson, 42, was spared jail and given an 18-month drugs treatment and rehabilitation order - in line with Lord Woolf's guidelines.

Another burglar spared jail was Gary Callaby, 29, of West Raynham, Norfolk, who admitted three burglaries and was given a 12-month drug treatment order at Norwich Crown Court.

Judge Alasdair Darroch decided against a prison term in light of Lord Woolf's guidelines, saying first-time offenders could be dealt with by community sentencing.

  The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"It's turned into a huge political row"
  Lord Falconer, Home Office Minister
"Sentencing is a matter for the courts"
  Oliver Letwin, The shadow Home Secretary
"They are out of touch"
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