Appeal Court judges have refused to increase a killer’s sentence after he choked a mother of two to death and then used the ‘rough sex’ defence in court.
Sam Pybus, 32, was jailed for four years and eight months after admitting the manslaughter of Sophie Moss, a vulnerable mother-of-two whom he strangled to death in bed in the early hours of February 7.
The sentencing judge accepted the married defendant did not intend to kill the 33-year-old and his remorse was genuine.
Pybus was originally charged with murder, but a Home Office pathologist found that the amount of pressure applied to the vulnerable mother-of-two’s neck was towards the lower end of cases which resulted in death.
At the Court of Appeal on Friday, three judges rejected a bid by Attorney General Suella Braverman, who attended the appeal in person, to increase Pybus’s sentence.
Lady Justice Macur said she believe the evidence suggested Ms Moss had consented to the practice of erotic asphyxiation.
She said: ‘The evidence before the court, and that is independent of the offender, suggests that her participation in that practice was consensual and also initiated by her.’
Lady Justice Macur, sitting with Lady Justice Carr and Mr Justice Murray, said ‘Bearing all the circumstances of this case in mind, we are not persuaded that the judge was wrong in categorisation, was wrong in the uplift he applied… or was wrong in the element of discount that he gave for mitigation and then for his plea of guilty.’
The sentence sparked outrage across the country and was referred to the Court of Appeal as ‘unduly lenient’ by the Attorney General.
Sam Pybus, 32, with his now ex-wife Louise Howitt, was jailed for four years and eight months after admitting the manslaughter of Sophie Moss, a vulnerable mother-of-two who he strangled to death in bed
Pybus, 32, killed his mistress Sophie Moss, 33, (pictured) by applying pressure to her neck during sex
Campaign group We Can’t Consent to This took to Twitter to voice their outrage
And feminist author Julie Bindel also voiced her anger at the decision
Campaign group We Can’t Consent to This took to Twitter to voice their outrage at the Appeal court judges’ decision.
They wrote: ‘The Attorney General appeal failed – Sam Pybus’s sentence will not be increase. Our attempt to intervene was rejected.
‘More to come but this could not be clearer case to show that the law (what it says and how it works) must change. Sophie Moss deserves better. ‘
And feminist author Julie Bindel wrote: ‘The judges in the Sam Pybus case just further enshrined in law that men have a ready defence if they choke women to death by saying that she asked for it, despite the abolition of the so-called rough sex defence in the domestic abuse act last year.
‘We’re living in terrible times.’
Pybus appeared via video link from Holme House prison for the approximately two-hour hearing, wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt.
Attorney General Suella Braverman QC told the Court of Appeal that the mother-of-two could not consent to any act after she became unconscious, and that the risk should have been ‘obvious’ to Pybus.
The Attorney General said: ‘Sophie Moss could not, and did not, consent to being strangled beyond the point of unconsciousness.’
She argued that any consent the 33-year-old gave was ‘limited’ to the restriction of her breathing to increase her pleasure during sex.
‘Indeed, once unconscious, she was no longer capable of consenting to anything at all,’ Ms Braverman said.
She continued: ‘In order for Sophie Moss to have died at the hands of the offender, it was necessary for him to strangle her to the point of unconsciousness and beyond.
‘To compress her neck for long enough that injury was caused and to leave her in a state in which she was unable to do or say anything to prevent further harm from coming to her.’
The Attorney General continued: ‘It may well have been seconds, it may well have been minutes, but it was still strong enough to kill her.
‘She would no longer have been an active participant in the act the offender claims she was enjoying.’
Sam Green QC, for Pybus, said there was no evidence about how long he had strangled Ms Moss, calling the Attorney General’s argument ‘speculation’.
He said: ‘There must have been some point between unconsciousness and death. What we don’t know, on the evidence, was whether the manual pressure to the neck continued after unconsciousness.
‘We don’t know if it even occurred up to the point of unconsciousness, we don’t know when unconsciousness occurred.’
Lady Justice Macur, sitting with Lady Justice Carr and Mr Justice Murray, declined the Attorney General’s request to refer the sentence.
‘We find on the basis of the facts in this case, on the evidence and not speculation… that there was no error of law which can be identified in terms of the assessment of the judge as being irrational or perverse,’ Lady Justice Macur said.
What is the unduly lenient sentence scheme?
The Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme provides for the public to ask the Attorney General to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal for being too low.
The Attorney General’s Office can review very low sentences given by the Crown Court in England and Wales, if asked to do so.
Only sentences for specific offences can be reviewed, including murder, manslaughter and rape.
To meet the criteria to be judged as ‘unduly lenient’, the law states that the given sentence must ‘fall outside the range of sentences which the judge, applying his mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate.’
Anyone can request for a sentence to be reviewed – even if they are not directly involved in the case.
If the Attorney General decides to send the case to the Court of Appeal, they will then decide whether to leave the sentence as it is, find it to be unduly lenient and increase it or refuse to hear the appeal.
‘We do not accept the submission of Madam Attorney General that the judge fell into error by considering the starting point in this case to be identified… as one of six years,’ she continued.
Lady Justice Macur agreed with the sentencing judge that ‘the nature of the evidence was such that it would not be possible to expect a jury to convict this offender of murder’ and there was no evidence capable of proving that Pybus intended to kill or cause really serious harm to Ms Moss.
The judge also added that the evidence suggested Ms Moss had consented to the practice of erotic asphyxiation.
‘The evidence before the court, and that is independent of the offender, suggests that her participation in that practice was consensual and also initiated by her,’ Lady Justice Macur said, adding that her consent was not enough to be a defence to manslaughter.
Lady Justice Macur said Ms Moss’s death ‘has left a great loss to those who loved her’.
The judge concluded: ‘Bearing all the circumstances of this case in mind, we are not persuaded that the judge was wrong in categorisation, was wrong in the uplift he applied… or was wrong in the element of discount that he gave for mitigation and then for his plea of guilty.’
After the ruling, Ms Braverman said: ‘There cannot be any guarantees with how a court will decide any matter, and I referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal because I considered it to be too low.
‘The Court of Appeal decided otherwise, I’m disappointed with the outcome but I respect the judgment and I’m grateful to the courts for considering the matter in some detail.
‘It’s undeniable that this was a tragic case, a disturbing sequence of events in which Sophie Moss lost her life at the hands of the offender.
‘This government is committed to supporting women and girls through the criminal justice system and preventing them from suffering in broader criminal matters.
‘We’re here to support victims and that’s our priority.’
Teesside Crown Court heard how Pybus was drunk when he applied pressure to her neck for tens of seconds or even minutes at her flat in Darlington, County Durham, in February.
Pybus woke up and found Ms Moss naked and unresponsive but did not dial 999, waiting in his car for 15 minutes before driving to a police station to raise the alarm, the court heard.
A post-mortem examination revealed he had applied enough pressure to her neck for long enough to kill. There was no evidence of any other injuries or violence.
The Crown Prosecution Service said there was not sufficient evidence to support a charge of murder as there was nothing to suggest he intended to kill her or cause serious harm.
Pybus, of Middleton St George, Darlington, told police he and Ms Moss had been in a casual relationship for three years, and that she encouraged him to strangle her during consensual sex.
The court heard that Ms Moss’s long-term partner, not named in court, said likewise.
Pybus’s court sentence sparked widespread revulsion and disgust due to its length
At the Court of Appeal on Friday, three judges rejected a bid by Attorney General Suella Braverman (pictured), who attended the appeal in person, to increase Pybus’s sentence
The Centre for Women’s Justice and the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This have applied for permission to intervene in the case ‘to ensure the court has information on the latest understanding of the harms of strangulation, and the prevalence and understanding of strangulation within the context of domestic abuse’.
Lady Justice Macur, Lady Justice Carr and Mr Justice Murray will hear the case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 10am on Friday.
During the court case, Ms Moss’s older brother James told Judge Paul Watson QC how his family would never be able to shake the belief that she ‘was taken advantage of and exploited’.
Pybus’s ex-wife is pushing for the killer’s sentence to be extended. Louise Howitt said: ‘It seems to me like a massive injustice to Sophie, her family and her two children.
Sam Pybus (right) who strangled Sophie Moss to death during sex is more concerned about not seeing his pet dog than showing remorse for his victim, his wife Louise Pybus (left) has said
‘I don’t think that her sons should grow up with the wrong narrative about their mum’s death.
‘She shouldn’t be made out to be responsible in any way for it, I think it’s a massive insult to suggest that she is somehow brought this on herself – it’s just victim blaming.
‘It is a case of abuse and exploitation and that’s not the way it has been shown in court.
‘I don’t think what [Pybus] has been sentenced to reflects what Sophie’s kids are going to go through.
‘Four years eight months and being out in just over two, it does not reflect the lifetime of grief he has put those two kids through and her entire family. My heart breaks for them.,’ she added to Darlington Live.
A judge heard how Pybus didn’t call an ambulance or attempt to resuscitate Ms Moss.
Instead he got dressed, left her flat and sat in his car for 15 minutes, deciding what to do, before turning himself in at Darlington Police Station.
Tragically by the time paramedics arrived at the ‘joyous’ 33-year-old mum’s home, they couldn’t save her.
In the days that followed, Ms Howitt, who hadn’t realised Pybus had left their home until the following morning, began to put the pieces together.
‘[Police said] we can’t tell you what he’s done – they were obviously still trying to work out what had happened themselves – but through our line of questioning you will draw your own conclusions,’ said Ms Howitt.
‘The first question they asked was ‘did Sam ever strangle you in bed?’
‘My initial reaction was he does like doing that.
‘There was not one part of me that thought he wouldn’t do that – immediately I thought that made sense.
‘I did tell them he had done it to me at the start of our relationship. We had been together eight years but he quickly got the impression that wasn’t really for me. We never had a conversation about it, he never asked can I do this to you.
‘They were very much focused on how did he do it, what did he do, what his intent was when he was doing it.
‘They didn’t really ask any more delving questions. At the time I didn’t realise what I was going through with him was abuse, I thought he was a very messed up person.
‘It was like they were finding evidence for him trying to back up his story..’
Ms Howitt says Pybus was financially and emotionally abusive during their relationship – claiming he got them into around £10,000 worth of debt through pay day loans and reckless spending, was manipulating and gas-lighted her into thinking she was the reason he felt forced to cheat when she had previously discovered his infidelity.
Source: Daily Mail UK