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Jail terms 'lenient' in Frank McGarahan killing

PUBLISHED: 21:12 26 June 2009 | UPDATED: 10:27 06 July 2010

The family of a wealthy banker, beaten to death in a Norwich street after a night out, denounced his killers' "lenient" sentences tonight after a High Court judge said his hands were tied by existing laws.

The family of a wealthy banker, beaten to death in a Norwich street after a night out, denounced his killers' “lenient” sentences tonight after a High Court judge said his hands were tied by existing laws.

In an unusual move after jailing two brothers for manslaughter, Mr Justice Saunders conceded his verdict would “inevitably be criticised” but added he had passed the toughest sentence possible.

He told Norwich Crown Court it was possible the gap between murder and manslaughter sentences was too great, adding: “After all it makes no difference to the victims of homicide what the intention of the killer was.”

His comments were echoed by victim Frank McGarahan's brother, Tony McGarahan, who called for an “urgent review” of homicide laws to allow judges to reflect the horror of some cases with longer jail terms.

Mr McGarahan, 45-year-old chief executive of Barclays Wealth, was killed in Norwich's Guildhall last September after standing up for a homeless man who had been subjected to an earlier attack.

Ben Cowles, 21, was given a seven-and-a-half year jail term while Tom Cowles, 22, was given a seven-year term. The brothers, of Beaumont Road, Costessey, admitted manslaughter after murder charges were dropped.

Mr Justice Saunders said no sentence he could pass could reflect the family's loss or was intended to value in some way his life.

He went on: “What I have to do is decide what the defendants did and then pass the appropriate sentence within the guidelines laid down by the court of appeal, which I am bound to follow.

“It is perfectly arguable that the difference in sentence between someone who kills intending to cause really serious harm and is therefore guilty of murder and somebody who kills intending to cause some but not serious harm and is therefore guilty of manslaughter is too great.”

Outside court Tony McGarahan said “no sentence would have been enough” but those passed were “disgracefully low”.

He added: “The judge made it clear his hands were tied by current sentencing guidelines. But I believe the government must look at the legislation and review those guidelines.

“Seven and seven and a half years respectively for killing someone are appalling.”

The court heard statements from members of the McGarahan family, each describing how the killing had torn their lives apart and continued to haunt them.

Mr McGarahan, 45, who lived in Hertfordshire, had been on a night out in the city with family members before the christening of his niece the following day.

His brother Kevin McGarahan, who lives in Norwich, said his family were now considering moving elsewhere. “I can no longer take my wife and children into a city which is within walking distance of our home,” he added. “There are reminders of Frank everywhere I look.

“If there is any good to come from this, it is knowing my children will not grow up in a society where they fear to walk the streets. They will not grow up in a walk-on-by society. I want them to be proud to live in a law-abiding society and feel able to play an active part in that society.”

Mr McGarahan's widow, Alison, described how shortly before his death he decided to reduce his workload as chief executive of Barclays Wealth to spend more time with his two daughters. Their youngest was only three months old at the time of his death.

Referring to the killing she added: “Our daughter will never know her loving dad. Frank only had three months to cherish and be proud of her. He worked incredibly hard but had decided to change his lifestyle to spend more time with us.”

Graham Parkin, for Ben Cowles, said there was a need to “address the balance” of media reports representing Mr McGarahan as a hero who “came to the rescue”.

He said the fight between his client and the homeless man was over by the time Mr McGarahan intervened. Mr McGarahan and the men he was with behaved in a “provocative manner” and used expletives. He disputed witness accounts that Mr McGarahan had “come to the rescue”.

His client was of previous good character, Mr Parkin added.

Michael Hubbard, for Tom Cowles, said no weapons had been used, the men had not acted in revenge and the attack had not been premeditated. Other than this incident, Tom Cowles was a “splendid young man”.

The judge added: “The sentence I am going to pass will undoubtedly be criticised as being lenient.

“All I can do is to emphasise that in terms of the authorities, this sentence is at the top of the bracket and deliberately so.

“People have to learn that if they go out and get drunk and indulge in violence on the streets, they may kill people.”

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