A murderer has had the minimum time she must serve behind bars, for her part in the brutal killing of a teenager, cut by three years.
Emma Last (20) admitted murdering 17-year-old Debra Carne, whose burning body was found in a country lane near her Sible Hedingham home in 2002. Last, from Braintree, was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to serve at least 20 years.
In a vital test case on Thursday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, accepted that the 20-year "tariff " – the minimum number of years to be served before being considered for parole – imposed on Last had been set too high.
Last's tariff was set at 20 years, but Lord Woolf, sitting with Mr Justice Silber and Mrs Justice Rafferty, accepted her lawyers' arguments, despite the horrific nature of the murder, that it was too long after a guilty plea, and cut it to 17 years.
Last's counsel, Sonia Woodley QC, told the judges how Last's co-accused, Kerry Bauer (21), had the same level of culpability but had received a tariff of 17 years after she was convicted of the murder.
The barrister said rightminded members of the public would think something had gone wrong with the administration of justice if told about the sentencing "disparity".
She added that Last had a "disturbed and difficult" background and was suffering a
borderline personality disorder, while Bauer had a stable family life.
Last, said Ms Woodley, had a "great sense of injustice" at what had happened.
The court heard Debra was attacked after Steven Wood spent a night at her mother's
home in July, 2002. Wood's girlfriend Nicole Hollinshead became jealous and, along with Last and Bauer, the pair hatched a plan of revenge.
Debra was lured by Wood to an isolated layby in Castle Hedingham where she was attacked, strangled and then set on fire.
Last poured petrol over her, Bauer lit a match and Hollinshead provided an alibi for the trio by remaining at a nearby hostel. Wood was convicted of manslaughter, while Hollinshead was found guilty of conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm.
After taking into account the time Last served on remand before being sentenced, she will now serve a minimum of 15 years and 97 days from the date she was sentenced. Reducing Emma Last's tariff, Lord Woolf said he had paid due attention to the suffering of the devastated family of her young victim, Debra Carne.
The murder was "planned and sadistic" and the judge told the court: "This was a truly horrendous crime. Naturally it has caused terrible pain and devastation to Debra Carne's family."
Had it not been for Last's guilty plea – entered at the earliest opportunity – Lord Woolf said he would have seen nothing impeachable in the 20- year tariff set by the trial judge.
However, in cutting the tariff to 17 years, the judge said that, in light of her youth – she was still only aged 20 and was in her teens at the time of the killing – and early admissions, the 20-year tariff could be demonstrated as being excessive.
Co-accused Kerry Bauer had received a 17-year tariff after being convicted of murder by a jury. But Lord Woolf said the fact she may have been "fortunate" and sentenced with "undue leniency" did not mean Last was entitled, as of right, to have her minimum term reduced because of the disparity.
The trial judge had been entitled to take the view that the killing was planned and that
Last bore the greater share of responsibility for Debra's callous murder.