St Albans killer wins ‘anxiety’ compensation

A CONVICTED killer who punched and killed a St Albans man after he was released early from prison has won taxpayer-funded compensation for the “anxiety and distress” caused by delays to his parole hearing.

Sam Sturnham, 32, who had been living at Harness Way, St Albans, before his trial, was put behind bars indefinitely for public protection at St Albans Crown Court in January 2007 after he was convicted of the manslaughter of 34-year-old Christian Noble, of High Street, Sandridge.

Sturnham was due to be up for parole in late 2009 but, because of “administrative errors” by the Department of Justice, his case was not heard until May last year, when his bid for freedom was rejected on the grounds that he was still a risk to society.

After a costly publicly-funded judicial review hearing, a High Court judge has now awarded the killer �300 in taxpayer cash as compensation for the breach of his human rights.

The court heard how, in 2006, Sturnham had been released halfway through a four-month prison term which he was given for drink driving.

In May that year, while still on licence, he defied an electronically-monitored curfew to go drinking in St Albans and got into a fight at Blackberry Jack’s on the Jersey Farm estate.

When peacemaker Mr Noble stepped in to try to break-up the brawl, Sturnham punched him twice to the head and he fell to the ground.

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Mr Noble, a roofer from St Albans, regained consciousness but died later that night after sustaining a fractured skull in the attack.

Once jailed, Sturnham was found guilty at disciplinary proceedings in prison of assaulting another inmate and later brewing his own alcoholic “hooch”. The judge said he also faced action over alleged breaches of “zero tolerance” rules imposed at Ford Open Prison following rioting last year.

He was deemed to still pose a threat to the public and his appeals for release were rejected by the Parole Board in May last year.

Despite the further misdemeanours, he was granted legal aid to challenge the Board’s finding at the High Court and to argue the delays amounted to a violation of his human rights.

His barrister, Philip Rule, told the court Sturnham had completed a number of courses in prison and the Parole Board had applied the “wrong test” to decide whether it was now safe to free him.

He also claimed that, even though Sturnham was not released, the six-month delay to his parole hearing breached his “right to liberty” and he should be awarded damages to compensate him for his “anxiety, distress and frustration”.

Mr Justice Mitting refused to overturn the Parole Board’s decision but ruled that Sturnham’s human tights were breached by the six-month delay before his unsuccessful parole bid was heard.

The judge said the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg would award damages to the killer and so it would save further public cost to finalise the case in Britain.

He added: “It does seem to me to be right in this case, where an individual prisoner has clearly suffered anxiety and distress as result of unjustified delay by the State, that he should recover modest damages.

The judge said he had considered whether the ruling would open the “floodgates” to a string of other claims by prisoners, but thought that any future claims would be “a small trickle”.

He ordered the Secretary of State for Justice to pay the legally-aided prisoner �300 as well as a proportion of Sturnham’s legal costs. Sturnham is currently serving his sentence at High Down Prison, Sutton, Surrey.