Man who helped Bishop Auckland friend's suicide bid wins cut in sentence

A man who was jailed for helping a suicidal friend to try to kill himself has had his sentence slashed on appeal

Durham Police/PA Wire Kevin Howe, who was convicted at Durham Crown Court of an offence of encouraging or assisting suicide
Kevin Howe, who was convicted at Durham Crown Court of an offence of encouraging or assisting suicide

A man who was jailed for supplying the petrol and cigarette lighter for a suicidal friend has had his sentence cut on appeal.

Kevin James Howe, 20, got 12 years for assisting attempted suicide at Durham Crown Court last October after giving his friend all he needed to turn himself into a human fireball.

Thirty-year-old Stephen Walker suffered devastating burns to almost his entire body in the blaze at his home in Walker Drive, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, last May.

But after an appeal last month, Howe yesterday saw his sentence cut to 10 years in a judgment delivered at the Court of Appeal.

Lord Justice Treacy, sitting with the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and Lady Justice Macur, said Howe’s youth, immaturity and previous good character justified the cut.

Howe, of Cheesmond Avenue, Bishop Auckland, and Mr Walker had been drinking heavily on the night of the suicide attempt.

Mr Walker said he wanted to set himself on fire and Howe rode one-and-a-half miles on his bicycle to a petrol station to buy the fuel.

Despite being warned not to do so by a concerned neighbour, he then delivered the jerrycan and lighter to Mr Walker.

Witnesses reported seeing flames one foot above Mr Walker’s head after his body caught fire. He was left with 90% burns, but miraculously survived.

Lord Justice Treacy said Mr Walker had been left in a “dreadful” condition, but Howe had shown no remorse.

Instead, he told police: “I will never speak to him again for what he’s put me through.”

On appeal in London last month, Howe’s barrister, Mark Styles, argued that the sentence was too long.

His actions were not highly premeditated, but had happened on the spur of the moment, when in drink. He was of “very modest” intellect and could not have been expected to fully understand what was going on in his friend’s head at the time.

Giving judgment, the appeal judge said Howe had lost mitigation by not pleading guilty and that the injuries resulting from his actions were “of the gravest nature”.

He also knew that his friend’s suicide threats were not empty and had handed him the “lethal combination” of fuel and lighter.

But he continued: “He can legitimately refer in mitigation to his age at the time of the offence, his immaturity and his absence of previous convictions.

“Death did not in fact result from his assistance, although these injuries would ordinarily have caused it, and the victim is left in a permanent and dreadful condition.

“There is no apparent ulterior motive. This is not a case of forcing the victim to act, albeit it is a case where the attempt at suicide could not have taken place but for the appellant’s actions.”

He concluded: “Notwithstanding the dreadful consequences for Mr Walker, this sentence was too long.”

The sentence was cut to 10 years.

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