Sophie Moss killing: sentencing of Sam Pybus was test case for new ‘rough sex defence’ law - and it failed

The shockingly lenient sentence handed out to killer Sam Pybus, just months after the so-called “rough sex defence” was supposedly outlawed, shows the battle for just punishments is not yet won, writes Harriet Clugston.

Harriet Harman MP (left) has asked the Attorney General to refer the sentence given to Sam Pybus (right, inset) to the Court of Appeal for being too lenient

Labour MP Harriet Harman wrote to the Attorney General yesterday (8 September), asking him to refer the four year and eight month sentence given to a man who strangled and killed a woman during sex to the Court of Appeal, for being too lenient.

The sentence, which was handed down earlier this week in Teesside, has caused uproar among campaigners, charities and the wider public, with Ms Harman accusing the judge of sending out “the message that killing your girlfriend during sex is a minor matter”.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sam Pybus drank 24 beers over 10 hours one day in February, waited for his wife to fall asleep, got in his car and drove to “vulnerable” Sophie Moss’s house where he choked her to death.

“I wonder how much time he would have got if he had knocked someone down while driving to her house?” I thought, while reading the details of the case.

So we found out.

Analysis of the Ministry of Justice database on court outcomes shows that over the last five years, the average custodial sentence given to people who killed through careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol was four years and eight-and-a-half months.

Slightly more than Pybus got for deliberately placing his hands around Sophie Moss’s neck, then squeezing the life out of her.

Pybus does not deny he did so - he admitted it, albeit claiming her death was accidental. But he also said choking Ms Moss was something he did regularly, and that she  both enjoyed and encouraged it.

It’s an example of the so-called “rough sex” defence, that has gained increasing notoriety in recent years.

Campaigners such as Ms Harman and We Can’t Consent To This have highlighted what they said was its increasing use in courts across the country, which has often resulted in men blaming deadly acts of violence against women on consensual acts gone wrong.

The law was changed in April when the Domestic Abuse Bill gained Royal Assent. It supposedly outlawed the use of the defence by making it crystal clear that no person can consent to the infliction of harm that causes injury or death.

We may have just witnessed the first test case of that legislation in our justice system – and it failed.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.