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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 March 2008, 15:38 GMT
How do you stop killers making up lies?
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Karl Taylor has been convicted of murdering Kate Beagley on their first date. The murderer claimed at his trial Kate had stabbed herself to death. What is to stop killers making up such preposterous lies?

Karl Taylor
Taylor changed his story several times before settling on suicide

If you are facing a life sentence if convicted, then it is perhaps not surprising that a murderer might choose to put forward the most outlandish defences.

After all, what have they got to lose?

Such was the case with Karl Taylor, who has been convicted of murdering Kate Beagley - stabbed 31 times in the face and neck, including blows which severed her carotid artery and her jugular vein.

Taylor came up with a number of stories before eventually settling on his final defence - that Kate had stabbed herself to death with his knife when it fell out of his sleeve where he had been hiding it because he himself had been feeling suicidal.

The defendant has the right to put forward their defence no matter how bizarre, or ludicrous or idiotic it might appear
Andrew Hadik
Crown Prosecution Service

Taylor's conviction comes hard on the heels of Mark Dixie, a sexual predator who was jailed for life for murdering Sally Anne Bowman.

Dixie's defence had been that, high on drink and drugs, he had gone for a stroll in the middle of the night and happened across Sally Anne's prone form and decided to have sex with her body.

Trial ordeal

It did not take long for the jury to convict in both cases, but not before the Beagley and Bowman families had had to sit through the ordeal of trials.

So how can this be?

"The defendant has the right to put forward their defence no matter how bizarre, or ludicrous or idiotic it might appear," says Andrew Hadik, a case lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service who worked on the recent trial of Levi Bellfield.

Bellfield was convicted of murdering two young women after they got off buses in south-west London and of trying to kill a third, Kate Sheedy.

He was accused of cowardice after refusing to appear for sentencing and the judge, Mrs Justice Rafferty, criticised him for forcing his barrister to ask pointless and distressing questions of Miss Sheedy.

Mark Dixie
Mark Dixie's own lawyer admitted his story sounded ridiculous

At present, defendants can get their sentence reduced if they plead guilty and show remorse.

But they cannot be given added time if they plead not guilty and put the victim's family through the trial process.

In December, the Ministry of Justice announced a major shake-up of murder laws in England and Wales.

Mr Hadik said the accused were no longer allowed to cross examine victims during rape trials and he said judges in all cases were under a duty to control their courtroom and prevent scandalous and scurrilous allegations.

Of the Dixie case, he said: "You might think his story was revolting, scandalous and unbelievable. But his counsel has to act on his instructions and put the allegations to the witness."

The current system has its fair share of critics.

'Human tragedy'

Clive Elliott, of the Victims of Crime Trust, said the families of murder victims are often "scarred for life" by the trial experience because they are forced to listen to details which are put forward as fact.

He said: "Judges ought to realise the human tragedy involved and the adverse effects of having to hear all this."

Mr Elliott said he would like to see the introduction of a new offence of "aggravated perjury" for murderers and rapists which, if convicted of, would add extra jail time on top of the life sentence tariff.

Often it's desperation that makes them do it - they know the evidence is stacked against them and they are searching for any ridiculous excuse
Rose Dixon
Support After Murder and Manslaughter

He said: "These people are wasting taxpayers' money and time as well as the adverse effects on the family and at the moment there is no deterrent for people like Dixie and Taylor."

Rose Dixon, from the pressure group Support After Murder and Manslaughter (Samm), said most victims' families would agree that these people should get longer sentences.

She said: "Often it's desperation that makes them do it. They know the evidence is stacked against them and they are searching for any ridiculous excuse.

"For a bereaved family going through a court case is absolutely horrendous, they have to listen to all this and sometimes the victim themselves are virtually blamed for their own death."

But she said: "While some sort of deterrent is an excellent idea I am not sure how it could be done in law. It's difficult to say when a defence becomes a ridiculous defence."

Chris.Summers-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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