How Did Oxford Student Stabbed Boyfriend And Got Away 'Because Of Her Extraordinary Talent'?!

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An Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend could be spared a custodial sentence because of her “extraordinary” talent, a court heard.

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward (24) stabbed her Cambridge-educated boyfriend, who she met on the Tinder dating app, in the leg before hurling a laptop, glass and a jam jar at him during a drug-fuelled rage.

The aspiring heart surgeon is currently studying at Oxford’s historic Christ Church college.

The 24-year-old admitted to a charge of unlawful wounding at Oxford Crown Court.

The court heard Woodward and Fairclough, a Cambridge PhD student, met using the Tinder dating app.

The “needy” pair who believed they were “desperately in love” had been having sex when Woodward stopped and started drinking. But when he threatened to contact her mum she punched him in the face. Then she tabbed her boyfriend with a bread knife and threw objects at him 

A 999 operator could hear screaming as Mr Fairclough said “I think my girlfriend has taken a lot of drugs.”

Lavinia is a talented student. She has published articles in medical journals and plans to return to university in the next academic year.

A friend said: “They see her as someone worth the risk of having around. She might win a Nobel Prize, she is that intelligent.”

The offence would normally carry a custodial sentence, but Judge Ian Pringle suggested she may be spared jail because of her academic record.

Judge Pringle will sentence her on September 25. In the mean time she has been slapped with a restraining order and told to stay drug-free and not to re-offend.

Judge said her glittering career prospects meant he was minded to take an "exceptional course" when it comes to sentencing, suggesting she might avoid a custodial sentence.

The judge said: "To prevent this extraordinary, able young lady from following her long held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be too severe."

“What you did will never, I know, leave you but it was pretty awful, and normally it would attract a custodial sentence, whether it is immediate or suspended.”

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: “The judge agreed to leave the lesser charges on file after a discussion between defence and prosecution.

The plea to the more serious charge was acceptable to the prosecution.”  A Courts and Tribunals Judiciary spokesman said: “We would not comment on what was said by a judge.” The Ministry of Justice also refused to comment.

Judge's comments led to speculation that she would be able to continue her studies at Christ Church college.

But it has now emerged that Woodward had already been warned about drug taking by the college and had been told she would be expelled if there was any further incidents.

Woodward will be sentenced for the knife attack in September, but could still be expelled from the college once the legal case has concluded.

A university spokesman said comments suggesting Woodward would be permitted to continue her degree "were the judge's not the college's".

The spokesman continued: "The context is obviously extremely serious."

It has emerged that prior to the attack, Woodward had been required to submit to regular drug testing by the college and had also been moved onto a research project where she had no contact with patients.

She is not the first elite student whose abilities in the school room have atoned for their crimes: last year, Ivy League educated Brock Turner served just three months for sexually assaulting a woman.

As a promising university swimmer, the judge expressed concern that a long sentence would have a “severe impact” on his life. It should hardly need pointing out that sexual assault and knife attacks have a tendency of doing that to their victims – regardless of their past and future merits.

So is this the rise of punishment by merit? Only those with the least talent and potential should suffer the inconvenience of paying for their crimes?

We are supposed to be held equal before the law. But if we’re clever, white, and have great prospects, could it be (with apologies to George Orwell) that some of us are more equal than others? 

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, says “While we are all formally equal before the law, the justice system reflects and reinforces the great inequalities in wealth and power of British society.”

Reacting to the judge’s remarks, the chairman of the criminal bar association, Francis FitzGibbon, interviewed on the Today programme, said the approach taken was within guidelines, and that it would be quite wrong to see this as some sort of leniency because the girl went to an Oxford college.

There are good grounds for according Woodward mercy, regardless of her career prospects. The court was told she had led a “very troubled life” including being abused by a former boyfriend.

Woodward's prior experience with substance abuse, serve as powerful mitigation. She also has no prior convictions. If she conforms to the expectations of the court before she appears again at the end of September, the sentencing guidelines for the offence she committed provide scope for the judge to be lenient.

Some experts claim people shouldn't be be seduced by the reflexive narrative that such merciful sentences are only afforded to white, middle-class defendants, and this course is not unusual.

However, figures show such courses are less usual when the defendant is non-white, or poor. That’s where it gets interesting.

Labour MP David Lammy’s review of the criminal justice system suggests that might be the case when it comes to black and minority ethnic defendants. Commissioned by the former Prime Minister David Cameron, the Lammy Review’s emerging findings, published at the end of last year, stated that among those found guilty at Crown Court in 2014, 112 black men were sentenced to custody for every 100 white men.

When drugs were involved, the difference was even more striking. Some 141 black men were imprisoned for every 100 white men. With women, a staggering 227 were handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for every 100 white women. These statistics imply that when mercy is applied, it is not applied equally, and especially in cases where drugs are involved.

Then there is the issue of poverty. In a study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published in 2014, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies opined that the “risks of poor people ending up in prison over the long and the short-term remain to be properly assessed and understood”. But it did find that “in a selective study of prisoners released in 2008, the mean periods of P45 employment observed in the year prior to custody fell below 16 weeks”. Earlier studies found prisoners were more likely to be on low wages prior to imprisonment, if they were even in work.

Woodward's troubled background, and the struggles she has endured, are very relevant to her sentencing. But the fact that a promising career has been put at risk? That shouldn’t matter.

The same mercy should be accorded to another Lavinia Woodward, with a similar troubled background, who was simply attending evening courses to become employable in a basic job Or one who was a checkout assistant at a supermarket with aspirations towards becoming a supervisor. 

It is understood that Lavinia Woodward is currently on holiday in Barbados; should she avoid a prison sentence she will try to resume her studies at Oxford’s prestigious Christ Church college in the Autumn. Criminals who have committed similar crimes will no doubt face less promising futures. What a shame it is they didn’t have an elite education before they wielded the knife.

People can debate and change the laws, question and alter the balance of punishment and rehabilitation that is meted out as a penalty for breaking them. But what we should not create a club of  the well-educated for whom the law does not apply.

Sources:

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