HMA v Ben Slee

At the High Court in Dunfermline, Lord Beckett imposed an Order for Lifelong Restriction on Ben Slee after the accused was found guilty of 29 charges dated between 2002 and 2015 involving six different women and including violent and sexual assault, and rape.

On sentencing, Lord Beckett made the following statement in court: 

“I have carefully considered the Criminal Justice Social Work Report, the Risk Assessment Report by Dr Marshall and clinical psychology report by Dr Macpherson. I have considered the evidence which I heard today.

I have had regard to everything that has been said on your behalf both today by Mr Mackintosh and by senior counsel at the conclusion of your trial and at the adjourned diet for sentence on 12 October 2016. I take account of your age and the age you were when you committed these offences and the passage of time between their commission and sentencing. I take account of your limited record of previous convictions and note that you have no previous convictions of significant gravity and none on indictment.

The position is very different now. You have been convicted of 29 charges (or 27 if all parts of charge 6 are treated as one) covering the period from 2002-2015. Many of these crimes merit severe punishment and you and others must be deterred from committing crimes of violence and sexual violence towards women. In your case, the protection of the public is an important consideration.

You have been convicted of assaulting six different women although in two cases the assaults are not particularly serious. The evidence led in your trial shows that you were readily able to form relationships with women. You could appear charming and considerate before becoming very controlling, often using violence to intimidate them into isolation and submission.

So far as the complainer in charges 2, 3, 5, 6 (a), 6(b), 6 (c), and 11 is concerned, you repeatedly assaulted her and at times did so almost daily. You assaulted her when she was pregnant. You head-butted her whilst she was breastfeeding a baby causing her nose to bleed and covering the baby in blood. You detained her in her own home. You held her head under water restricting her breathing. You appeared to derive amusement from doing this and telling her that you could have killed her.

Charge 5 reflects your having committed a brutal and obviously painful penetrative sexual assault followed by rape. Charges 6 (a), (b) and (c) disclose a pattern of other sexually penetrative assaults being repeatedly committed  by you and include your raping her when she was asleep. After this relationship had finished, charge 11 discloses that you turned up at the complainer’s home in the early hours of the morning and pushed your way into the house before forcibly raping her. 

A different complainer features in charges 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17. Your relationship commenced when she was 16. Charge 12 involved a penetrative sexual assault committed in circumstances where you sought to humiliate your partner after she challenged you about being with another woman. You were violent towards her during consensual sexual intercourse. Charge 14 involved an appalling penetrative sexual assault causing terrible pain and some injury. Seeing her in pain made you laugh. Your apparent motive, as expressed by what you said to the complainer, was truly despicable. Charge 16 involved another penetrative sexual assault and your victim perceived that you were enjoying causing her pain. Charge 17 refers to a sustained assault in the course of which you struck the complainer on the head with a heavy glass ashtray causing injury. 

The complainer on charges 22, 23, 24 and 26 describes your violence escalating when you were taking cocaine and/or alcohol.

On charge 22 the jury was satisfied that you repeatedly assaulted the complainer over a period of more than 5 years. You punched, and kicked her and threw items at her causing her injury and you assaulted her when she was pregnant. You assaulted her when she was pregnant on a different occasion, charge 23. You repeatedly punched her in the stomach with great force. You attempted to choke her and restricted her breathing, leading her to think that you would kill her.

Charge 24 was an assault which took place on Christmas day in 2012 when you squeezed her neck, restricting her breathing until she lost consciousness which the jury determined was potentially life endangering. Charge 26 disclosed that on a number of occasions you would assault your partner during consensual sexual intercourse causing some injury.

I turn next to charges 33, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 45, 47 and 48. During the course of this relationship you told the complainer that you were taking anabolic steroids which seemed to trigger your violence, but taking these or any other drugs is not mitigating. You isolated the complainer by bullying and threatening her to the extent that she felt completely controlled by you. You assaulted her on numerous occasions and used threats to dissuade her from telling anyone.

In charge 38 you pushed your way into the complainer’s home and, whilst wearing boots, stamped on her bare feet. You committed a penetrative sexual assault with intent to rape making demeaning, derogatory and misogynistic comments as you did so. 

Charge 39 involved another penetrative sexual assault, this time to severe injury. It was clear that your motive was to cause pain because you were jealous that the complainer may have been in contact with a former partner. You made serious threats to dissuade her from reporting what you had done.

Charge 41 was a sustained assault during which you restricted your partner’s breathing committed when young children were in the house.

On charge 43, because your partner had replied in a friendly way to a text sent by the father of her children, you assaulted her by head-butting her before committing further assaults. You head-butted her in the area of her pelvis causing injury and extreme pain. On charge 45 you assaulted the complainer by punching her in the face in a car in the presence of a child. Charge 48 saw you spit in the complainer’s face and then repeatedly punch her so hard that she lost consciousness and sustained what the jury regarded as severe injury.

I accept that charges 18 and 50 were not particularly serious charges in themselves and there was no escalation because both women ended their relationship with you in the light of your violence towards them.

I recognise that you were convicted of rape in the case of one complainer only, albeit repeatedly. However, you inflicted painful and unusually cruel penetrative sexual assaults on two further complainers. Whilst you were acquitted of the sexual assault and rape of one of the complainers, you subjected her to violence over many years and assaulted her during consensual sexual activity. In a number of cases your crimes involved restricting your victims’ breathing.

From victim impact statements provided by three of the women whom you assaulted, it is plain that your conduct has had very profound effects on them and their way of life.

You have shown no insight and no remorse.

The author of the risk assessment report analyses your relationships in this way, at page 88, where he states that: 

“Mr Slee’s style of relating with women involves subjugation, ownership, control and the application of instrumental, as well as, reactive impulsive violence. He views women as his property and his identity is built on ideas of strength and wealth.”

I have considered Mr Mackintosh’s submissions in the light of the reports and the evidence, but I am not persuaded that an extended sentence with its licensing conditions and potentially deterrent effect would offer sufficient protection for the public from you even viewed in combination with other measures such as the effects of notification and the possibility of a Sexual Offences Protection Order (SOPO). The criminal law is intended to deter people from offending but it did not deter you from repeatedly committing similar offences over a period of more than ten years. I do not consider it entirely irrelevant that you have a conviction for breach of bail conditions.

The proposition put to Dr Macpherson, was that a SOPO might prohibit repeated contact with a female and it was in response to that suggestion that he was prepared to accept that strictly drawn controls might be efficacious in reducing risk, but it is not maintained that the court could prevent you having relationships with women altogether.

I have had regard to the opinion of the court in the case of Ferguson v HM Advocate 2013 SCCR 244, as I was invited to do by Mr Mackintosh in his written submissions.

It is relevant to consider what risks you will present on your release from prison, which lies in the future. However that issue has been addressed in his report and in his evidence by Dr Marshall. It has also been considered by Dr Macpherson in his report. 

The assessment reached by Dr Marshall, using methods approved by the Risk Management Authority, is that you pose a high risk to members of the public at large particularly relating to sexual violent offending and non-sexual violence in relationships.

This assessment implies that the nature, seriousness and pattern of your behaviour indicates an enduring propensity to seriously endanger the lives, or physical or psychological well-being of members of the public at large; that you have problematic, persistent and pervasive characteristics which are relevant to risk and the potential for change over time and/or with treatment is significantly limited; and that without changes in these characteristics you will continue to pose a risk of serious harm.

I have considered carefully the report prepared by Dr Macpherson on instructions from your lawyers.  Whilst he has not approached matters in exactly the same way as Dr Marshall, I do not find that his analysis does much to undermine the conclusions reached by Dr Marshall. I note that Dr Macpherson considers that the risks you present are complex, serious and likely to be present for the foreseeable future and will require supervision and management of a kind which may best be achieved by way of an order for lifelong restriction. He did not depart from that view in his evidence, even if he made the concession to which I have referred.

Having regard to all of the information before me, I am satisfied on a balance of probability that the risk criteria are met.

Having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crimes on this indictment which you have committed, and your record of previous convictions to which I attach very limited weight, I consider that there is a pattern of behaviour which demonstrates that there is a likelihood, meaning probability, that when at liberty you will seriously endanger the lives, or physical or psychological well-being of members of the public at large.

I conclude that if an order for lifelong restriction were not made, you would seriously endanger the lives, physical and psychological wellbeing of members of the public at large, once you are at liberty, even more so if you were no longer subject to licence conditions. I am going to make an order for lifelong restriction.

Parliament prescribes how I should determine the punishment part of this indeterminate sentence. The punishment part is the period of time which must pass before you can apply for parole.

Taking account of all of the crimes of which you were convicted on this indictment, had I not been imposing an order for lifelong restriction, I would have imposed an extended sentence, the custodial term of which would have been 15 years.

I am required by parliament to ignore any period of confinement which may be necessary for the protection of the public and to determine the part of that period of imprisonment which would represent an appropriate period to satisfy requirements of retribution and deterrence. That period is 12 years. I will follow the normal approach suggested in the legislation and reduce that period by one half to take account of the effects of early release. Accordingly the punishment part of your order for lifelong restriction will be 6 years which is backdated to 2 September 2016.

The sentence imposed is not a sentence of imprisonment for 6 years, it is an order for lifelong restriction which is a sentence of imprisonment for an indeterminate period, which shares some characteristics with a life sentence. You will not be eligible to apply for parole until the punishment part has elapsed.

It does not follow that you will then be released. You will only be released from prison when the Parole Board considers that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that you continue to be held in prison.

The Clerk of Court will notify the Scottish Ministers of the details of your convictions so that they may determine if you are to be included on the list of persons unsuitable to work with young people. You will be subject to notification requirements indefinitely.”

 

For more information on Orders for Lifelong Restriction and other sentences, see the Scottish Sentencing Council website.