A man sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for strangling a woman to death during sex may have got longer behind bars if he had hit someone on the drive to her house.
Sophie Moss, 33, was killed by Sam Pybus, 32, in February this year. Pybus, from Darlington, was jailed at Teesside Crown Court on Tuesday (7 September) after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Analysis of Ministry of Justice court data by NationalWorld reveals the average custodial sentence over the last five years for people convicted of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol was just over four years and eight-and-a-half months.
That means Pybus – who claimed to have been so drunk he could not remember choking Ms Moss – may have received a slightly longer sentence if he had killed someone on the way to her house.
The Fawcett Society and End Violence Against Women Coalition charities both condemned the sentence, telling NationalWorld it demonstrates how the justice system fails female victims of male violence, and places too little value on women’s lives.
Ms Moss, a mother of two boys aged five and six, was described as a “vulnerable” woman, with a history of physical and mental health issues.
Pybus had drunk 24 bottles of Amstel lager over 10 hours before driving to Ms Moss’s house, where he applied “prolonged” pressure to her neck during sex. The court was told Pybus recalled his hands hurting when he woke up alongside her lifeless body the next day.
He was originally charged with murder but a Home Office pathologist found the amount of pressure applied was towards the lower end of cases that result in death, the court was told. The pressure could have been applied for at least 10 seconds, if not minutes.
Pybus later claimed he and his victim often engaged in “rough” sex, and that she “encouraged and enjoyed” being strangled.
Harriet Harman MP has written to Attorney General Michael Ellis, asking him to refer the case to the Court of Appeal under the ‘unduly lenient sentence’ scheme.
The Labour MP and former Minister for Women under Tony Blair’s government said it was “disgraceful” the court had accepted his mitigation.
“This sentence fails to reflect the gravity of the crime, [...] his sole cuplability for her death, his cynical shifting of the responsibility from himself to her, and sends out the message that killing your girlfirend during sex is a minor matter,” she wrote.
There has been increased focus on so-called ‘rough sex’ defences in recent years, where men who have killed or caused violent injuries to women during sex claim it was the result of consensual acts gone wrong.
The Domestic Abuse Bill, passed into law in April, was intended to outlaw the defence, by making clear a person cannot consent to the infliction of harm that causes injury or death.But the Fawcett Society said Pybus’s sentence – handed down by Judge Paul Watson, the Recorder for MiIddlesbrough – shows the steps taken by the Government have not yet been enough to achieve just punishments for such killers.
But the Fawcett Society said Pybus’s sentence – handed down by Judge Paul Watson, the Recorder for MiIddlesbrough – shows the steps taken by the Government have not yet been enough to achieve just punishments for such killers.
Welcoming the move by Ms Harman, Fawcett chief executive Felicia Willow said: “It is intolerable that a woman’s life should be valued so little by the law. This sentence shows exactly why normalised sexual violence against women is so harmful.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said there was insufficient evidence to prove Pybus intended to cause his victim harm.
But her brother, James Moss, told the court he believed his sister was “a victim, taken advantage of and exploited, and was subjected to an entirely avoidable and infinitely tragic end”.
Pybus, of Water View, Middleton St George, Darlington, told police he could only recall coming around in his boxer shorts and finding her unconscious.
He gave no first aid, instead returning to his car where he thought about what to do for 15 minutes, before driving to a police station.
Andrea Simon, director of End Violence Against Women Coalition said the sentence demonstrated how the justice system continues to fail female victims of male violence.
“It is unthinkable that in 2021, a man strangling a woman to death can still be minimalised in the courts as a consensual sex act gone wrong, rather than a serious and heinous act of violence,” she said.
“This case calls into question how the [rough sex defence] legislation is understood and implemented by prosecutors and the judiciary, and illustrates the extent to which victim blaming normalises violence against women and remains a barrier to justice.”
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We have received a request for the case of Sam Pybus to be considered under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme.
“Only one request is required for us to review whether a sentence is too low. The Law Officers have 28 days from sentencing to consider the case and make a decision on whether to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal.”
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