Sentencing of Teenage Defendant for Harehills Murder

St Pauls Chambers’ Richard Barraclough KC represented a young man charged with the ‘Harehills Murder’. The young man who cannot be named was acquitted of murder and convicted and sentenced for manslaughter.

Case Details

On 10 February 2017, Irfan Wahid, 16, died in hospital after being attacked in Harehills Lane, Leeds. Leeds Crown Court heard that the fight broke out due to a dispute over a girl who had dated the defendant in 2016 and spent time with Irfan days before the stabbing. The defendant, 17, told the jury he did not mean to kill the teenager who died and that he swung a knife, which he carried in his bag to defend himself, after being punched to the ground by Irfan and others.

The defendant, who cannot be named, denied murder and manslaughter charges, saying it was only when he saw blood on the weapon that he realised what had happened. The 17 year old said he then ran away, threw the knife down a grate and burned his clothes, spending the night in a car before handing himself into the police, saying he felt terrible when he found out Irfan had died.

Richard Barraclough QC represented the teenage defendant at Leeds Crown Court at his trial in August 2017.  The teenager was acquitted of murder and convicted of manslaughter.

On 15th September 2017 His Honour Judge Marson QC passed sentence:


You are now 17 years old and have been convicted by the jury of the manslaughter of IW. At the time you were 16 years 10 months old. You have no previous convictions and, therefore, have not previously served a custodial sentence. You have one irrelevant caution.

I begin by setting out the factual basis as I find it upon which you fall to be sentenced.

You had been in an on and off relationship with KB who was referred to as K.  It is clear that IW who was 16 at the time, was also interested in a possible relationship with her.

You had seen messages on social media and this caused you some irritation.  There was an incident earlier in the week where IW had barged into you and there had been an exchange of words.  On the fateful day, you had arranged to meet K at a bus stop in Harehills Lane after school.  The street was busy with vehicles and pedestrians including children.  You met her and were talking to her outside the takeaway.  You had not expected to see IW. IW had previously injured his dominant hand and had 2 fingers strapped together and had been provided with a sling.

IW, it is clear, was looking for you.  He did not get off at his usual stop and just before getting off at the stop where you were speaking with K asked his cousin for help if needed.  I accept that IW was looking for a physical confrontation with you.  When he got off the bus he attacked you with his fists and punched you a number of times.  Early in the incident your glasses were knocked off.  It was a sudden and unexpected attack. You seem to have received 5 or 6 punches to the head area. When K held IW back he was eager to get away and continue the assault.  Fortunately you received little physical injury.

In your bag, you were carrying a kitchen knife which you had taken from your aunt’s, without her knowledge, some weeks before.  It was not recovered because you later disposed of it, but it must have had a blade of approximately 10cms. You had been carrying it to have it available to use as a weapon if necessary, albeit you said you would have used it to threaten and to ward people off if you were under threat.  You say you carried it because of an earlier incident and that you would use it to defend yourself. You were not carrying it as part of gang culture. You knew the dangers of carrying a knife and the potential fatal consequences which can follow if produced during the course of a confrontation.  This was not the first day you had the knife with you. For a period of weeks you had been carrying it with you in your bag.  You had even taken it to college.  Each night you removed the knife from your bag and hid it under your brother’s bed and each morning you retrieved it, put it in your bag and took it with you. There is no excuse for the carrying of a knife.

Having been attacked and at a time when IW was being held by K, you opened your bag, pulled out the knife, moved towards IW and, in temper, I am satisfied, deliberately stabbed IW once with it. It has been submitted on your behalf that the jury must have found that this was not a deliberate stab or may not have been. I do not accept that. I am mindful of a conflict of evidence and it is clear that some witnesses were confused and wrong, but the evidence which I regard as reliable indicated that at the time you stabbed him IW was being held by K and that he couldn’t anything. There was compelling evidence from ES who had an excellent view of what went on, that you went towards IW, grabbed the back of his neck with your left hand and delivered a blow with the other. She thought it was a punch, but it was clearly the stabbing. That blow penetrated his heart and, on that street and in the view of others including children, IW quickly died and despite the efforts of passers by and paramedics he could not be saved. The verdict of the jury, of course, reflected that they were not sure that you intended either to kill or to cause really serious bodily harm. I accept that there was no premeditation. Nevertheless, your culpability remains high.

You fled the scene, disposed of the knife, burnt your clothing in an attempt to protect yourself and spent a night or so sleeping in a car.

No doubt realising that your arrest was inevitable, you subsequently handed yourself in to the police. That is the factual background as I find it to be.

The carrying of the knife is a serious feature of this case.  Had you not been carrying it, this would have been a fist fight and, although unpleasant would likely have resulted in little injury to anyone.  The carrying of knives by youths is a serious problem for the public and the courts. All too frequently it results in serious injury or death, even if unintended. This case is a classic and tragic example of the dangers of carrying knives.  People need to understand that the courts will pass deterrent sentences in cases such as this where knives are carried so that they are available to use as a weapon, whether defensive or offensive. The report of the Youth Offending Team refers to the fact that ‘historically a number of young people have been stabbed in this area.’ The carrying of knives will not be tolerated.

Had this case involved an adult convicted of murder the starting point for the minimum term would have been 25 years. That, as a determinate sentence, would be 50 years.  There has to be some correlation in cases of manslaughter where knives are carried in this way, bearing in mind, of course, the absence of an intention to kill or cause really serious bodily injury.  Using a knife in the way you did carried a high risk of death or serious injury which ought to have been obvious to you.

A custodial sentence is inevitable. It will be the minimum, as the law requires, bearing in mind all the circumstances of the case and the fact that your conviction does not involve the intention to kill or cause really serious bodily harm.

This case is a tragedy for all involved, but particularly for IW and his family.

It may be that no sentence will be long enough for IW’S family and friends and any sentence too long for you and your family and friends. Irfan too came from a decent, hard-working and loving family and I have listened to moving victim personal statements from them which set out the consequences for them of your unlawful act. The length of the custodial sentence I impose is not a measure of the value of a young and promising life lost or the devastation caused to IWs family and those close to him.  No words can bring them comfort and they will carry the burden of his untimely death with them for ever and long after you are released from custody to return to your family.

You are under the age of 18 and I have had regard to the sentencing guidelines for persons of your age. I have particularly reminded myself of the overarching principles of preventing offending and having regard to the welfare of young people.

I have borne in mind everything which I have read about you and everything which has been said. You are an intelligent young man coming from a decent and hard-working family. You have no previous convictions and only one irrelevant caution. It follows that you have not previously been to custody and I note that your behaviour on remand has been excellent and that you are polite and well mannered.  I note that the report from the Youth Offending Team had no alternative but to assess you as being a ‘high risk of harm to the public,’ but that is a statistical assessment. I also note that you are highly motivated to complete any offending programme. I have considered the question of dangerousness as defined by the Criminal Justice Act 2003; you do not fulfil the criteria and your case may be dealt with by a determinate sentence.

I have borne in mind the letter which you have written expressing your remorse. You understand the devastation which your unlawful act has caused. As you say, this would never have happened if you had not had a knife.

Is submitted on your behalf that I should give you credit for being prepared to plead guilty to manslaughter at the beginning of the trial. I have been referred to the case of Rawson; the circumstances there were entirely different. In that case the defendant entered a guilty plea before the retrial. I have also been referred to the cases of Birt [2011] which refers to the even older case of Bertram [2004]. I do not find these of any assistance as credit for a guilty plea is now set out in the sentencing guideline to which I have had regard. The reality is that there was a count of manslaughter on the indictment and it would have been open to you to enter a guilty plea to that charge. Had you done so you would have been entitled to credit. No guilty plea was entered, albeit for tactical reasons no doubt, and in the circumstances here, I do not regard it as appropriate to give any discount. You gave evidence and denied criminal responsibility for what you done. A defendant who did plead guilty to manslaughter in these circumstances would be entitled to credit for that plea.

I do not regard a Referral Order or a Detention and Training Order as being  sufficient or suitable disposals in this case; the only appropriate sentence is one of detention under section 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts(Sentencing) Act 2000.

Bearing everything in mind, had you been an adult, the sentence would have been 15 years imprisonment. Accordingly, the sentence on Count 2 of the indictment is one of 10 years detention. Insofar as the matter of carrying the knife to which you pleaded guilty is concerned, there will be no separate penalty.

You will be liable to serve up to half that sentence and thereafter you will be released on licence. If you reoffend or your conduct warrants it, you will be liable to be recalled to custody. Insofar as the surcharge provisions apply, the order may be drawn in the appropriate amount.

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Richard Barraclough KC

Richard Barraclough KC

Call: 1980 Silk: 2003

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