R v Louka  EWCA Crim 2015
Appeal against sentence.
Transcript (Crown Copyright)
The transcript will remain here until it appears on Bailii.
Neutral Citation Number:  EWCA Crim 2015 No: 201002675 A2 IN THE COURT OF APPEAL CRIMINAL DIVISION Royal Courts of Justice Strand London, WC2A 2LL Friday, 30th July 2010 B e f o r e: MR JUSTICE TREACY RECORDER OF MANCHESTER HIS HONOUR JUDGE GILBART QC (SITTING AS A JUDGE OF THE COURT OF APPEAL CRIMINAL DIVISION) R E G I N A v MARIE LOUKA Computer Aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of WordWave International Limited A Merrill Communications Company 165 Fleet Street London EC4A 2DY Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838 (Official Shorthand Writers to the Court) Mr B Walker‑Nolan appeared on behalf of the Appellant J U D G M E N T (As approved by the Court) Crown copyright© 1. MR JUSTICE TREACY: This appellant, Marie Louka, appeals against a sentence imposed on 29th April 2010 at Maidstone Crown Court. She had previously pleaded guilty to three offences. Those were offences of blackmail, theft and possession of a bladed article. She received a sentence of 21 months' imprisonment in relation to the blackmail and concurrent 12 month sentences for the other two matters. The court ordered that time spent on remand should be credited towards that sentence. 2. The circumstances of the offence are as follows. The complainant, a Ms Hodges, owned a dog and over the Christmas period went to Folkestone to visit a relative. On 19th December, the dog escaped from the home at which they are were staying and, although Ms Hodges and other family members searched for the dog, they could not find him. They were concerned and distressed about the loss of their dog and put up posters in the local area, leaving a phone number and inviting contact. During the Hodges' stay at Folkestone there was no contact from anyone and so the family returned to their normal home address. 3. On Christmas Eve, they received a phone call. The initial phone call was made by a man. It was followed up about a quarter of an hour later by a phone call from this appellant. The appellant asked how much Ms Hodges loved her dog and asked how much she was willing to pay for the return of the dog. Ms Hodges explained that she had only been visiting Folkestone and that she normally lived in Berkshire, at which the appellant commented that Berkshire was a nice place and that to live there Ms Hodges must have some money. Ms Hodges explained that she was in fact a single mother living in a council house and had no money of her own. Ms Hodges said that there would be a reward for the appellant but she wanted to be reassured that the appellant had the dog. There was discussion about meeting and at the end of that conversation the appellant was stating that she did not believe the dog was Ms Hodges and that she intended to keep it. 4. There were further phone calls received from the appellant later that day and again the appellant was interested in how much money was to be paid. The sum of £50 was mentioned by Ms Hodges, at which the appellant commented "Is that all? Then I'm going to keep him". 5. On 26th December, a further phone call was received from the appellant and again the appellant was expressing interest in the amount of money she would receive. The appellant said that she wanted "serious money" and said that she was "talking thousands". There was a further call in which the figure of £10,000 was mentioned. An arrangement was made whereby Ms Hodges would travel and go to Folkestone. In fact, Ms Hodges had been in contact with the police and so, when a meeting took place in Folkestone at 2.00am the following morning, there were police undercover officers in place. Prior to the meeting, Ms Hodges received a large number of phone calls from the appellant asking if she was indeed coming and if she had the money. 6. When the meeting took place, the police saw a male in the vicinity and that man was arrested. That man is due to be tried shortly. The appellant was seen at the meeting place with the dog and the officer who approached her noticed that she was wearing a large jacket and that she would not take her hands out of her pockets. When she was detained, a pair of scissors was found in her jacket pocket, together with three posters of the missing dog. The appellant was generally unco‑operative. 7. In interview, she said that she had the scissors with her because she was scared of being out on her own in Folkestone. She went on to explain that she was on medication. 8. The dog was returned safely to its owner and it is right to say that it had not been harmed and there is no evidence before the court to doubt the appellant's claim that she had properly looked after it whilst it had been in her possession. 9. When a plea was tendered to the court, an extensive basis of plea document was put before the court. Its terms were accepted by the Crown. Much of what is contained in that document is in fact mitigation rather than a basis of plea but it is relevant and important to the decision to be made in this appeal. Accordingly, we shall now read that basis of plea. It provides as follows: "1. At time of the commission of the offence (22 to 28th December 2008) she was suffering a manic episode as a result of her bi‑polar disorder as set out in the report of Mr Ahmed Ismail (Consultant Psychiatrist). The manic episode left her, 'suggestible, easily‑influenced and likely to venture into high risk behaviour'. 2. She was subsequently sectioned under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983 on 20th January 2009. It was noted by Gareth Locke at the time that she appeared to be suffering delusions, was disinhibited and manic. 3. She came across the dog outside the Co‑op in Folkestone. At the time she took it for a stray (it had no collar or tags) and took it home in order to care for it. 4. Her then partner [we shall simply identify him as S] saw the missing dog poster the next day and pointed out that it said reward. 5. She admits making the telephone calls to Melanie Hodges referred to in the various witness statements. She made those calls at the instigation of S. It was S who suggested extorting money and he who came up with the figure of £10,000. She believes he intended to purchase large quantities of heroin and cocaine with any monies and sell on those drugs to make more money. The evidence of Melanie Hodges referring to a male voice directing Ms Louka as to arrangements for the hand over of monies and meeting is accurate. The male voice is that of S. 6. Miss Louka met S in 2006 when they were both at the Arundel Unit (the mental health unit at William Harvey Hospital). She began a relationship with him at that time which ended at the end of 2009 when she made an allegation of rape against him for which he is currently being prosecuted (at the time of drafting of this document he has been charged by police and is remanded in custody). 7. During the course of his relationship with S, Ms Louka was abused, beaten, threatened and raped by S, who was violent and extremely controlling. 8. At the time of the offence Ms Louka was in fear of S and being threatened regularly with violence (including on one occasion, having a knife held to her throat). Due to her fear of him and her mental health she did not resist his proposals relating to the commission of this offence. 9. Ms Louka initially felt unable to make admissions in this matter because she continued to live with S. Following the arrest and remand in custody of S for the alleged offence of rape, Ms Louka has felt able to make full disclosure as detailed above as to the circumstances of the offence." That was the basis of plea document accepted by the Crown which was placed before the sentencing judge. 10. Ms Louka is now 49 years of age. Her previous record shows that she was convicted of theft in December 2009. Apart from that, there is no other matter of relevance. 11. There was available to the sentencing judge a psychiatric report stating that Ms Louka suffered from Bipolar Affective Disorder, which was in remission at the time of the report, namely January 2010. We shall return to that report shortly. There was also a pre‑sentence report, which recommended a community order with a requirement of supervision and which indicated that Ms Louka was focused on maintaining her recovery from her bipolar disorder and keen to engage with local mental health services. The author of that report assessed Ms Louka as being genuinely remorseful. 12. The grounds of appeal submitted to us argue that the sentence imposed was manifestly excessive and that the sentencing judge did not have sufficient regard to the guilty plea and to the mitigation disclosed in the basis of plea, together with the contents of the psychiatric report and Ms Louka's personal history and circumstances. Mr Walker‑Nolan has developed those matters orally before us today. 13. It is right that we observe that blackmail is one of the ugliest offences in the criminal calender. The victim of this crime will undoubtedly have suffered great anguish as a result of this appellant's actions over the Christmas period 2008. We in no way minimise that and ordinarily a substantial custodial sentence will follow for conduct of this sort. However, this case is somewhat out of the ordinary. This appellant, in her mid 40s, left her husband and five children for S, whom she had met in a mental health unit during a period of mental illness in 2006. Their ensuing relationship was unhealthy and abusive. S was a significant influence in Ms Louka's life at the time these offences were committed. It appears that he was the instigator and directing mind behind the plan to extort money and its execution. The psychiatric report shows that the appellant was sectioned under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983, in September 2006 suffering from Bipolar Affective Disorder. She was sectioned again in January 2009 some three weeks after these offences after exhibiting violent behaviour in a supermarket. Her behaviour at the time was manic and delusional. The appellant's condition is described by Dr Ismail as follows: "Ms Louka suffers from Bipolar Affective Disorder, currently in remission. The disorder is characterised by repeated (ie at least two) episodes in which the patient's mood and activity levels are significantly disturbed, this disturbance consisting on some occasions of an elevation of mood and increased energy and activity (mania or hypomania), and on others of a lowering of mood and deceased energy and activity (depression)." The consultant goes on to say: "It is likely that at the time of committing the offence, Ms Louka was experiencing a manic episode. In a manic state a patient is suggestible, easily influenced and likely to venture into high risk behaviours [the basis of plea document accepted this]. Ms Louka needs to engage with local psychiatric services and may need indefinite long term prophylactic treatment for her condition. She also needs help to manage her illicit substances taking behaviour." 14. Unpleasant as this offence was, and not overlooking the taking of the scissors to the meeting with Ms Hodges, albeit that they were not produced, we take the view that this appellant's culpability for what occurred was much reduced firstly by the mental condition from which she was undoubtedly suffering at the time and secondly from the malign influence of her partner S, who was the driving force behind these offences. In addition, we take account of this middle aged woman's lack of prior conviction and the fact of a plea of guilty, albeit not at the earliest opportunity. 15. Her delayed plea may well have been due to S's influence. In addition to that, we note the probation officer's opinion that she was generally remorseful for her conduct. The present position is that the appellant has been in custody for five months, the equivalent of a ten month sentence. She appears from the information provided to us to have terminated her relationship with S and now shows insight into her mental condition which was not shown at the time of her hospital admissions. In those circumstances, and unusually, we are persuaded that the sentence imposed for the offence of blackmail and allied offences was excessive. Looking at matters as they now stand, we propose to allow the appeal by quashing the sentences of imprisonment and substituting a community order with an 18 month supervision requirement. That requirement is made pursuant to section 213 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The requirement means that Ms Louka must attend appointments with the responsible officer, whom we envisage to be a probation officer, or another person determined by the responsible officer at such time and place as may be determined by the responsible officer. 16. What we have in mind in requiring attendance at appointments made with the responsible officer or another person is to enable the responsible officer to assist and direct Ms Louka in the direction of the services which are available in her locality from a community mental health team or other similar organisation. We have in mind the desirability of the monitoring of this appellant's mental condition and the order which this court makes is designed to encourage Ms Louka to co‑operate in that respect. We make plain that this is not an order pursuant to section 207 of the Act imposing a mental health treatment requirement, the necessary conditions for that are not in place, but this is an order which we envisage requiring Ms Louka to meet and consult with a view to obtaining help and treatment for her condition at the direction of the probation officer. That is the effect of the order and we hope that counsel in his post hearing conference will explain that again to Ms Louka. 17. Before leaving this case, this court would like to express its appreciation of the efforts of Mr Gardener, the probation liaison officer at the Royal Courts of Justice, who has made a significant number of enquiries at the court's request into this matter over the last few days.
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