Sparing prison for clever student 'sends wrong signal to victims'

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Victims’ groups have warned that a decision not to jail an Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend because of her “extraordinary” talent for medicine could set back attempts to encourage others who suffer domestic violence to come forward.

Lavinia Woodward, 24, who studied at Christ Church College, Oxford, stabbed her boyfriend Thomas Fairclough in the leg on December 30 last year following a drink and drug-fuelled row.

The pair, who had met on the dating site Tinder, had a row and when Mr Fairclough, a Cambridge PHD student, threatened to call Woodward’s mother she punched him before picking up a bread knife and stabbing him in the leg.

She admitted a charge of unlawful wounding at Oxford Crown Court and on Tuesday Judge Ian Pringle said the offence would normally mean a custodial sentence.

But he deferred sentencing for a period of four months and hinted that she would not be jailed – because of her ”extraordinary” talent.

He said: “It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinarily able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be a sentence which 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.”

But victims’ groups have said the judge’s comments send entirely the wrong signal to others who have suffered from similar assaults, particularly male victims of domestic violence who are already reluctant to come forward.

Claire Waxman, the director of Voice4Victims, told The Telegraph: “I think the Judge needs to be mindful of the way he sentences this case and his comments.  Male victims of domestic violence struggle to come forward due to the way society views them. If the Judge passes a lenient sentence, this will discourage victims from coming forward and reporting.”

She added: “This case raises some serious questions on how we view female perpetrators of domestic violence and how the effects of the crime on the victim is being overshadowed by the impact the sentence could have on the perpetrator’s life.”

Lavinia Woodward, 24, who studies at Christ Church College, Oxford, stabbed Thomas Fairclough in the leg with a bread knife when he threatened to call her mother during a row

Lavinia Woodward, 24, who studies at Christ Church College, Oxford, stabbed Thomas Fairclough in the leg with a bread knife when he threatened to call her mother during a row

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Norman Brennan, a former police officer of 31 years’ experience who campaigns for victims of crime , said: “This is a crime that should always attract a prison sentence. At a time when knife crime is out of control the courts should be setting an example.”

The court was told Christ Church College will allow Woodward to return in October because she “is that bright”.

However, her defence counsel Jim Sturman QC said Woodward –  who has already had articles published in medical journals – is unlikely to be able to fulfill her ambition of becoming a heart surgeon her criminal conviction would have to be disclosed.

Woodward had come top of her year in the pre-clinical tests that all Oxford medical students take at the end of their third year.

She be sentenced on September 25 and was given a restraining order, and told to stay drug-free and not to re-offend.

The Sentencing Council, which advises judges in order to “promote greater consistency in sentencing”, said it could not comment on the specific circumstances of an ongoing case.

But it said that in sentencing an offence of unlawful wounding, such as that committed by Woodward, a judge would have to take into account the seriousness of the assault, whether there was any premeditation and the offender’s previous criminal history before deciding whether to impose a custodial sentence of up to four years or a non-custodial community order.

Mr Fairclough has been described as an extremely talented student.

He graduated in law from Reading University in 2013 with a result placing him in the top one per cent of students and is now studying for his PhD at Gonville & Caius College.

Friends of Mr Fairclough said he regretted that the case had gone to court and did not want to see his former girlfriend behind bars.

“Thomas still likes her a lot and he didn’t want there to be a court case against her in the first place. He didn’t want charges to be pressed and I’m sure he wouldn’t want her to go to prison for what’s happened,” said one fellow student.

Woodward attended Sir James Henderson British School of Milan, a £16,000-a-year international school in the Italian city before going to Oxford.

After the case Mr Sturman said that Woodward had been making “every effort” to get her life back on track and added: “She has been seeing a counsellor. This is not a soft option – this is a judge giving her a fair chance to prove herself.”