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Court of Appeal upholds the majority of convictions for arson and manslaughter in a referral by the CCRC

Published:

Re: Tredget v Regina [2022] EWCA Crim 108

The Court of Appeal upheld the majority of convictions referred to it by the CCRC in this appeal.

On 20 January 1981 the appellant, Peter Tredget (who had previously used the names Peter Dinsdale and Bruce George Peter Lee), had pleaded guilty to 11 counts of arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to whether life was endangered and 26 counts of manslaughter.  He was sentenced to detention without limitation of time at Park Lane Hospital, under sections 60 and 65 of the Mental Health Act 1959.

In a previous appeal the Court quashed his conviction for one count of arson and the 11 consequent convictions for manslaughter.

In this appeal the Court upheld his conviction for 8 counts of arson with intent to endanger life or being reckless as to whether life was endangered and 12 counts of manslaughter. The sentence remained undisturbed.

In the appeal which lasted for 9 days, the Court heard expert evidence relating to fires, forensic linguistics, ESDA document examination and clinical psychology.

The Court made a number of important observations about the approach to be taken when a person had pleaded guilty, identifying three categories of case:

(1) where an equivocal or an unintended plea was entered;

(2) where there is a legal obstacle to the defendant being tried for the offence, for instance because the prosecution would be stayed on the grounds that it is offensive to justice to bring them to trial (e.g. an abuse of process); and

(3) where it is established that the appellant did not commit the offence, in other words that the admission made by the plea is a false one.

[173] By way of summary, for the first category, the matters vitiating the plea must be demonstrated (e.g. that the plea was equivocal, unintended or affected by drugs etc.; there was a ruling leaving no arguable defence; pressure or threats narrowed the ambit of freedom of choice; misleading advice was provided or a defence was overlooked). For the second category, it must be shown that there was a legal obstacle to the defendant being tried for the offence or there was a fundamental breach of the accused’s right under article 6 (whether he or she was guilty or not), and for the third category, it needs to be established that the appellant did not commit the offence. If that standard is not met, we would not expect an appeal against conviction following a guilty plea to succeed.”

 

Mr Tredget submitted that he fell into the third category but the Court found that only two of his ten sets of remaining fire convictions met the newly-expressed test, i.e. he had not established that he had not committed the offences in question, with the Court remarking as follows: [222] We repeat that in the present case the safety of these convictions does not depend on the acceptance by a jury of disputed confessions obtained in circumstances when there were arguable breaches of the Judges’ Rules or other unfairness. These convictions depend on the public pleas of guilty, tendered in open court by the defendant who did not lack capacity, who knew what he had and had not done, and when he was in receipt of the best legal advice. The Judges’ Rules had no application, any more than PACE has now, to pleas of guilty tendered after careful advice and in open court.”

 

This precedent has already been applied by the Court of Appeal in the recent and highly-topical case of R v AAD, AAH and AAI [2022] EWCA Crim 106 in the context of victims of trafficking: [155] The essence of this issue is whether an appellant who pleaded guilty but was subsequently found to have been a VOT [victim of trafficking] can nonetheless appeal against conviction. In this context, our attention is drawn particularly to Kakaei [2021] EWCA Crim 503. This court has recently and extensively considered this issue in R v Tredget [2022] EWCA Crim 108. The court determined that there are three categories of case, albeit this is not a closed list, when a conviction can be overturned following a guilty plea.”

 

Richard Whittam QC was involved in this case.