The mother of a teenage girl whose lung was punctured as she was repeatedly stabbed has called for an overhaul of the justice system after the attacker walked free from court.
Talseem Mulhall’s daughter Tiana was told she was “lucky to be alive” by a doctor after the attack in which a pair of scissors was plunged into the 17-year-old’s back five times.
Lord Goldsmith, a former government minister, has said that the case – which lasted for more than three years because of delays – is “one more example of a justice system in the UK that seems incapable of providing actual justice”.
Ms Mulhall – 53, of Richmond-upon-Thames, in Lord Goldsmith’s former constituency – said: “I am originally from Yemen, and I can honestly say that there would be a better chance of justice there.”
The attacker, Esme Lacey, was charged immediately after the attack in November 2020 but was sentenced only last month.
By the time the case was completed, three different juries had been assembled and dismissed, there had been a change of judge, and sentencing courts and dates had twice been rescheduled.
Lacey was ultimately sentenced at a makeshift court in the Grand Connaught Rooms, a party and conference venue in London’s Covent Garden. There was no physical presence from the prosecution in the courtroom, with the Crown’s barrister appearing by video link because he said that he had been told about the hearing only the day before.
‘Sounds like a joke’
Ms Mulhall, an artist, said: “It sounds like a joke that there can be so many juries, delays, postponements and different courts for just one case. And that the final sentencing can be held in a party venue with no physical presence from the prosecution. But it’s no joke. The delays have made the trauma of the attack even worse for my daughter.”
She added that she took pictures of her daughter’s wounds in hospital and said that the police used these as evidence. “I can’t believe that they didn’t take their own pictures.”
She said she later found two more wounds on Tiana’s head from the attack – which happened in New Malden, south-west London – but that these were not considered as evidence.
When the case finally came to a full trial, in September last year, Lacey, 20, was cleared at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, so she was sentenced for an earlier guilty plea to the lesser charge of GBH without intent.
She and a co-defendant – Amina Aden, from Hounslow, west London, who was 18 at the time of the attack – said they had intended to use the scissors to cut off Tiana’s hair. Aden pleaded not guilty to GBH with intent and was cleared.
Lacey argued in court that the wounds were caused in a struggle that ensued after she and Aden had tried to cut the hair.
‘Case was a shambles from the start’
In an impact statement, Tiana said that the attack – which also dislocated one of her shoulders – had left her in a wheelchair for four weeks and on crutches for 12.
Lord Goldsmith said: “Tiana will bear the scars, both physical and mental, of this senseless and barbaric attack for the rest of her life. But her treatment by the criminal justice system has also been appalling.”
He added: “The case was a shambles from the start, with police failing to gather basic evidence, court trials being postponed repeatedly, and the trial itself not happening until three years after the attack.”
Tiana was attacked in a street by former friend Lacey and when she was taken to hospital, she was told that if one of the wounds had been an inch further away, she would have been paralysed.
At the sentencing, Recorder Nigel Sangster KC called the attack – which he said had been sparked by a “silly” argument – “vicious” and “cruel”. However, he gave waitress Lacey a suspended sentence of just two years because he said that the attack was “at odds” with the Probation Service’s pre-sentence report on her. Lacey was also ordered to complete 20 days of “rehabilitation activity” and pay Tiana £600 in compensation.
Lord Goldsmith said: “Despite being found guilty of GBH, the sentence imposed on Tiana’s attacker makes a mockery of justice.”
He added: “For Tiana and her family, this has been life-changing.” Tiana has been told she will need therapy for the rest of her life.
After the sentencing, Tiana wrote to the Attorney General’s Office seeking an appeal against the sentence on the grounds that it was unduly lenient. But she received a reply saying that a GBH without intent conviction was not serious enough to be considered.
“If the prosecution had done a proper job then the conviction would have been more serious,” Tiana said. “Also, I could have died from that attack, in which case the conviction would be manslaughter or even murder.”
Ms Mulhall said: “There has been no justice for Tiana. We are just one family, but if this is how the system works all over the country, there must be hundreds – even thousands – of victims and families being denied justice all the time.”
Tiana said: “My life has been ruined, and now I have waited more than three years to find that the person who ruined it will face no consequences.”
After the attack, Aden and Lacey – who was from Putney, south-west London – were granted bail, and Tiana says the only times Lacey would have been in custody would have been the few hours after she was arrested and for the court appearances.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that it does not comment on individual cases but, regarding the delays, pointed to disruption caused by the Covid pandemic and the 2022 barristers’ strike, and how, since 2020, measures such as the use of remote hearings and “Nightingale” courts such as Holborn Crown Court had been introduced to “speed up justice for victims and improve the justice system”.
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