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Father of Slain Police Officer Highlights Drawbacks of Compelled Killer Attendance at Sentencing

The father of a murdered police officer has expressed concern about the proposal to make it mandatory for convicted murderers and rapists to attend their sentencing hearings. Lucy Letby, who was recently convicted of murdering seven babies, refused to attend her sentencing hearing, joining a growing list of offenders who have chosen not to appear in court. Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has stated his intention to change the law to ensure that offenders cannot avoid their sentencing hearings. However, Bryndon Hughes, whose daughter was murdered in 2012, believes this proposed change is a knee-jerk reaction that hasn’t been carefully considered.
Bryndon Hughes, whose daughter PC Nicola Hughes was killed in 2012 by Dale Cregan, expressed concerns that requiring killers to attend their sentencing hearings could cause disruptions and emotional distress. Hughes believes that many killers are sociopaths who thrive on the anguish and grief of others. He worries that if these perpetrators can see the pain and suffering of their victims’ families in court, they may incite disorder, shout abuse, and potentially cause physical altercations. Hughes stated that he has witnessed individuals who are unruly and disrespectful towards the court and authority figures. He argues that forcing them to be present might cause further disruption and delay the legal proceedings. In his opinion, it is a difficult choice to make, as these individuals have a complete disregard for life and respect for law and order.
Hughes, who was recently awarded an MBE for his work with crime victims, believes that mandatory appearances for criminals would not provide comfort to families of victims. Instead, he suggests that they should take solace in the sentences handed down by the court. In recent years, high-profile sentencing hearings have been televised, but this could potentially enable convicted individuals to interrupt the judge, verbally abuse victims’ families, police officers, or the judiciary.
The Prison Officers’ Association’s general secretary, Steve Gillan, accused ministers of politicizing the issue. He explained that while a judge has the power to order a prisoner to attend a court hearing, prison staff cannot use force to make them comply. If an offender refuses to attend court, reasonable and proportional force may be used. Gillan clarified that the prison staff would need to directly order the prisoner to attend, explaining that the court had been in touch and did not accept their stated reasons for non-compliance.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticized the government for delaying changes to the law. In several recent cases, judges have expressed their frustration at killers who refused to attend their sentencing hearings. Former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and current Justice Secretary Alex Chalk have both pledged to change the law to ensure compulsory attendance. Letby’s decision to not appear at her sentencing has outraged the families of her victims, with former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland describing it as a “cynical refusal.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also condemned the refusal of offenders to face their victims and hear the impact their crimes have had. He confirmed that the government is actively considering changing the law to ensure mandatory attendance at sentencing hearings.

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