NI: Man convicted of manslaughter must serve at least six years before being considered for release
In Belfast Crown Court, Justice McBride sentenced a 33-year-old man to an indeterminate custodial sentence for the manslaughter of a 29-year-old man in 2015, ordering that he must serve a minimum term of six years before the Parole Commissioners can consider him for release on licence.
Mohsin Bhatti was a 29-year-old Pakistani national living in Belfast. He died on 29 January 2015 as a result of multiple stab wounds inflicted by Ahmed Noor.
Mr Noor was originally charged with murder and possession of offensive weapons, namely two knives, with intent to commit murder. On the morning of his trial he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and in light of agreed medical evidence the prosecution accepted the plea.
Mr Noor said that he was smoking cannabis throughout the day of the 28th and continued to smoke cannabis until 4.00am on 29th January 2015.
About 20 minutes before the offence occurred, he said he got the idea to kill Mohsin Bhatti and voices told him to do this.
He took a knife from his cousin’s kitchen and broke in to Mohsin Bhatti’s home, where a struggle ensued between the two men.
Mohsin Bhatti ran out of his home and was pursued by Mr Noor, who caught up with him in Botanic Avenue and repeatedly stabbed him until he died.
The cause of death was found to be multiple stab wounds to the chest and abdomen.
Having remained at the scene until police arrived, Mr Noor was arrested at the scene.
The police noted that Mr Noor’s hands were covered in blood and found two knives lying beside the deceased’s body.
Mr Noor was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, making a number of unsolicited comments on route to the hospital while under caution.
Before interview Mr Noor was medically assessed and following this he was detained under the Mental Health Order. On 4 February 2015 Mr Noor was released back to police custody and charged with the murder of Moshin Bhatti.
Mr Noor reported that he had been consuming cannabis daily for five or more years before the offence and he craved cannabis despite its negative effects on him such as paranoia. Since 2003 he reported a number of episodes when he heard voices. He described paranoid delusion for example believing that he was “the king”, and two days before the offence he believed the deceased was the devil and he thought that by killing him he was going to become the king.
The court received reports from two consultant forensic psychiatrists who agreed that at the time of the killing Mr Noor was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, which substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgement and to exercise self-control.
Justice McBride considered a victim impact statement submitted on behalf of Moshin Bhatti’s family, together with statements made by friends.
The Judge noted that the statements indicated that Moshin Bhatti was a quiet, gentle, hospitable and friendly man who got on with others.
The Judge stated that the “moving and well-expressed statement brings home starkly the far-reaching consequences for the family of this unprovoked brutal killing of their vulnerable son and brother”.
The offence of manslaughter comes within the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 – it is a “specified offence” and a “serious offence”, and accordingly the court has to decide whether there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further specified offences.
One of the consultant forensic psychologists considered the issue of dangerousness, submitting that “Mr Noor demonstrated the capacity to cause serious harm and taken with his paranoid schizophrenia, the propensity to carry or use weapons, severe mental illness and cannabis dependence, I would submit that the likelihood of future offences causing serious harm is more than a mere possibility”
Furthermore, the consultant forensic psychologist concluded:
“Mr Noor poses a substantial likelihood of serious physical harm in the future and that this relates particularly to the risks of his abusing cannabis and not complying with mental health services and other supports leading to acute relapse of his illness with attendant risk of harm, particularly to others.”
In relation to the risk of serious harm, the Probation Board concluded that Mr Noor fulfilled their criteria for representing a significant risk of serious harm. Based on all the information about the nature and circumstances of the offence and the information contained within the medical reports and the pre-sentencing report, the Judge considered that Mr Noor was dangerous, under the provisions of Article 13(1)(b) of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.
As Mr Noor was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, there were a number of sentencing options open to the court:
1) a determinate sentence; a discretionary life sentence;
2) an indeterminate custodial sentence;
3) an extended custodial sentence; or
4) a Hospital Order.
The Judge considered these options and concluded that the appropriate disposal was an indeterminate custodial sentence, saying:
“There is no doubt that this was a truly horrific offence. It was an unprovoked, violent and sustained attack on a vulnerable individual, which resulted in his death… The medical evidence however provides an explanation as to why the defendant acted as he did before, during and after the offence.”
In the circumstances, Justice McBride considered that Mr Noor had no knowledge he may be violent whilst under the influence of cannabis, and prior to this offence there was no known history of Mr Noor being violent whilst under the influence of cannabis.
Justice McBride said that the tariff imposed reflected her “assessment of the defendant’s culpability and my assessment of what period is appropriate to protect the public and to reflect the public abhorrence that this offence was committed.”
Accordingly, Justice McBride imposed an indeterminate custodial sentence with a minimum period of six years, not including his time on remand.
In sentencing, Justice McBride emphasised that this meant Mr Noor would serve the full six years before being eligible to be considered for release by the Parole Commissioners, which would have to ensure the safety of the public.