In Brief

‘Too clever for prison’ Oxford student gets suspended sentence

Judge had reportedly earlier told Lavinia Woodward a prison term could damage her career prospects

An Oxford University student who was dubbed “too clever for prison” after stabbing her boyfriend with a bread knife has been spared jail.

Medical student Lavinia Woodward was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence for the attack in December last year. 

Woodward admitted she had a cocaine problem after punching her boyfriend and then hurling a glass, laptop and jam jar at him. The university is “considering disciplinary measures, including expulsion”, says The Times.

Judge Ian Pringle QC caused controversy earlier this year when he told Woodward that a jail term could damage her prospects of a medical career and would therefore represent too harsh a punishment.

Pringle said in May: “It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinary 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.”

The judge’s remarks led to tabloid headlines of “too clever for prison” and suggestions he was showing Woodward undue leniency. Her defence lawyer, James Sturman QC, said the comments had been taken out of context and it was wrong to suggest that the defendant had been treated leniently because of her academic achievement.

In his sentencing remarks this week, Pringle told Woodward: "There are many mitigating features in your case.

“Principally, at the age of 24 you have no previous convictions of any nature whatsoever. Secondly, I find that you were genuinely remorseful following this event and, indeed, it was against your bail conditions, you contacted your partner to fully confess your guilt and your deep sorrow for what happened.

“Thirdly, whilst you are a clearly highly-intelligent individual, you had an immaturity about you which was not commensurate for someone of your age.

“Fourthly, as the reports from the experts make clear, you suffer from an emotionally unstable personality disorder, a severe eating disorder and alcohol drug dependence.

“Finally, and most significantly, you have demonstrated over the last nine months that you are determined to rid yourself of your alcohol and drug addiction and have undergone extensive treatment including counselling to address the many issues that you face.”

The sentence has been criticised by criminal justice campaigners, who said that the lenient ruling would deter men who had fallen victim to domestic abuse from coming forward.

“In terms of whether the genders were reversed, we would expect any man committing this type of crime to go to prison and rightly so,” Mark Brooks, chair of the charity Mankind Initiative, told The Daily Telegraph.

And John Azah, chief executive of the Kingston Race and Inequalities Council, said: “If she wasn't Oxford-educated, if she came from a deprived area, I don't think she would have got the same sentence and been allowed to walk free.”

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