In 2015 I wrote an article for the Justice Gap concerning the lenient sentence imposed on Sarah Sands for the premeditated cold-blooded killing of 77-year-old Michael Pleasted (Is it somehow OK to kill suspected sex offenders?). Mr Pleasted was facing charges of child sexual abuse, and had not been tried or convicted of them yet. It has recently been revealed that the alleged abuse involved Mrs Sand’s three sons. This I concede does provide a significant mitigating factor and presumably in part explained the otherwise incomprehensible conviction for manslaughter rather than murder (Sands took a 12-inch knife to Mr Pleasted’s flat, stabbed him eight times, and left him to bleed to death).
Whether it provided sufficient mitigation for such an act may be a matter of opinion but what it does not provide is a basis for giving the killer supportive airtime on national television to promote her case and her misconceived ideas about solving a perceived problem – a problem that seems to exclude the main element of that problem – vigilantism, and in this case, cold blooded premediated killing.
It was like a bad dream when on Wed 23rd November 2022 Sands appeared on television promoting her views – gently supported by presenters on BBC Breakfast and then highlighted on the National BBC News with a reference to a documentary on BBC IPlayer. This documentary allows Ms Sands, in fairness to express a degree of remorse, but overwhelmingly portray herself as the victim. I doubt that this has ever happened before, neither have I ever seen an MP (Sarah Champion MP) warmly greeting a killer in front of TV cameras to help her take forward her misguided ideas about the justice system. Since when did self-confessed killers become suitable candidates for promoting their cause on television. Whatever happened to ethics at the BBC?
So, what is Sand’s great idea: Mr Pleasted had changed his name and Sands is promoting a campaign to stop anyone convicted, or presumably also anyone suspected, of sex offences, from changing their names and hiding previous identities. (Curiously Sands does not propose the same for violent criminals and killers). The irony of this campaign is gut wrenching – why do these people change their names and hide their identities? The answer could not be more obvious, it is to escape abuse, harassment, threats, and ultimately homicidal acts such as that committed by Sands.
The criminal justice system may show leniency to the likes of Sands – it would not have done the same for Mr Pleasted, had he been convicted his sentence would most likely have been about three times as long as that of his killer. He would almost certainly have died in prison along with many other elderly men, many of whom are convicted on nothing more than accusations alleged to have happened decades ago.
Some years ago, the News of the World’s ‘name and shame’ campaign led to vigilante mobs on the streets and a number of horrific attacks, sometimes on people mistaken for the intended targets – most famously the moronic attack on the home of a paediatrician. Recently, local news in North Wales reported the death of an alleged offender; he had been left to bleed to death after having his genitalia cut off. His offence apparently was indecent exposure at a Travelodge. Not appropriate but hardly the crime of the century.
Some people of course believe that anything goes where people accused of sex offences are concerned (until they are accused themselves of course, falsely, or otherwise). If nothing else I urge those people to reflect on the 14-year-old girl who died in a house fire as a result of an arson attack by thugs who believed a sex offender was in the house.
This is the horrific reality of vigilantism. What is happening to our society when MP’s and a pillar of the establishment such as the BBC promotes the cause of perpetrators of such crimes? I hope the political establishment will resist any further populist attraction to the promotion of vigilantism, if not the consequences will be horrific, as the News of the World’s irresponsibility showed, no one is safe from vigilantes, they do not employ any ‘fact checkers’.