By: Alan Erwin
Any use of strangulation should be a significant aggravating feature when sentencing domestic abusers in Northern Ireland, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Senior judges likened it to deploying a weapon as they dismissed a Co Antrim man’s challenge to his 12-month prison term for assaults on a partner.
Lawyers for Campbell Allen, 22, claimed a probation order should have been imposed instead for a violent outburst said to have left the woman hardly able to breathe.
But dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Stephens said: “Strangulation is an effective and cruel way of asserting dominance and control over a person through the terrifying experience of being starved of oxygen.
“The intention of the offender may be to create a shared understanding that death, should the offender so choose, is only seconds away.”
Allen, from Glenkeen Avenue in Greenisland, was appealing the term handed down at Belfast Crown Court in March for false imprisonment and common assault.
He had grabbed the woman by the throat with both hands, squeezing hard and pushing her back against a wall during a jealousy-fuelled argument at her home on July 11, 2019.
Another row in the early hours of the following morning led to a second violent incident.
Allen refused to let the woman leave the bedroom, punched her in the face and strangled her on the bed with both hands to the point where she was struggling to breathe, the court heard.
Allen was ordered to serve six months in custody and a further six months on licence.
In the first case of its kind dealt with remotely due to the Covid-19 crisis, his legal team contended that the sentence was manifestly excessive.
Barrister Richard McConkey argued that a probation order would have been more in the public interest than a jail term.
He said it would have offered more chance for his client to address anger management issues and rehabilitation by taking part in a ‘Respectful Relationships Programme’.
Mr McConkey added that Allen, who expressed shame and regret over the offences, has been assessed as a medium risk of re-offending.
However, despite recognising the defendant’s admissions and recognition of his need for change, the court backed the sentencing judge’s decision to send him to prison.
Lord Justice Stephens also rejected any characterisation of domestic violence as “family tiffs or lovers’ disputes”.
In a guideline judgment, he emphasised: “These are serious crimes, physically and mentally damaging wives, husbands, partners and children.”
The judge went on to describe the act of strangulation as a symbol of an abuser’s power and control over their victim – mostly female.
He noted that legislation introduced in other jurisdictions, including New Zealand and 44 US States, to criminalise it as a stand-alone offence.
“”We… consider it to be a substantial aggravating factor,” Lord Justice Stephens said.
“We consider that the use of body force to strangle is not less heinous than the use of a weapon.”
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