FRANKIE Smith’s eight-year sentence for allowing the murder of her 16-month-old daughter Star Hobson has been referred to the Court of Appeal.

Attorney General Suella Braverman QC decided her sentence is “unduly lenient”, and has asked the second highest court in the UK to take another look.

But what are the possible outcomes from this? If they decide the Attorney General is right, what’s the maximum sentence Smith can receive? Why did the trial judge give Smith the sentence she currently has? And what is the likelihood of any changes being made to Smith’s sentence?

Frankie Smith, 20, was jailed last month after being found guilty of allowing her daughter Star’s death on September 22, 2020. She was acquitted of murder and manslaughter.

Her partner Savannah Brockhill, 28, was found guilty of murdering baby Star with a severe blow or blows at Smith’s flat in Wesley Place, Keighley, and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years. Her sentence has not been referred to the Court of Appeal.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Star HobsonStar Hobson

What is the maximum sentence Frankie Smith could receive from the Court of Appeal?

The Sentencing Council sets the guidelines for judges to follow when they come to make a decision on how a defendant should be punished, to ensure outcomes are fair and deliver justice.

For the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child, the available sentence length varies massively, from one year in jail through to the maximum sentence of 14 years.

The offence is split by culpabilities – how responsible the defendant is for their offence – and takes into account a wide range of factors which were all considered by the trial judge Mrs Justice Christina Lambert QC.

The maximum increase in sentence that Smith could receive would be that of an additional six years in prison.

Why did the trial judge give Frankie Smith an eight-year sentence?

As mentioned above, there are a number of factors a judge has to consider when passing sentence to ensure it is fair and proportionate.

These include whether the cruelty was prolonged, deliberate disregard for the victim, failing to take steps to protect the victim, and also whether an offender’s responsibility is reduced due to low mental capacity, disability or lack of maturity, if an offender is the victim of domestic abuse linked to the offence, whether some steps were taken to protect the victim, and if an incident was a momentary lack of judgement.

Let’s look again at what Mrs Justice Lambert – an extremely experienced High Court Justice – said while sentencing Smith last month.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Wesley Place, Keighley, where Star and Smith livedWesley Place, Keighley, where Star and Smith lived

She accepted Smith has a level of immaturity and a low IQ, but also that Smith was a neglectful parent from Star’s early weeks and this low IQ did not excuse her behaviour.

She accepted there were occasions Brockhill was physically violent towards Smith and was possessive of her, but didn’t accept this left Smith unable to leave her through fear.

Mrs Justice Lambert pointed out Smith was being sentenced for allowing, rather than causing, Star’s death, and placed her sentence in the highest culpability range, which has a starting point of nine years.

She said Smith must have known bruises to Star on previous occasions were caused by Brockhill, but did accept her low IQ may have meant she didn’t appreciate the seriousness of these injuries.

But, despite all these bruises, Smith failed to call the police, health services, or her family for help, or cut ties with the causer of the bruises, Savannah Brockhill, instead continuing the relationship and giving Brockhill unsupervised access to Star with devastating consequences.

Mrs Justice Lambert had to take into account these lesser culpability factors – the blatant lack of maturity, being a victim of domestic violence – but still placed her offending in the highest range.

Her cruelty to Star aggravated the offence, along with the fact she went along with a story to protect Brockhill for over a year before changing her story midway through the trial.

But Mrs Justice Lambert also had to consider that Smith is a mother who has lost her daughter, and played a role in her daughter’s death.

“This is something which you will have to live with for the rest of your life,” she said, “I do not underestimate the weight of that burden which you must carry.”

It’s by considering all of these factors that the sentence of eight years custody was reached for Frankie Smith.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Court of AppealThe Court of Appeal

Is Frankie Smith’s sentence likely to change?

This is entirely dependent on the decision of the judges at the Court of Appeal. It’s the second highest court in the UK behind the Supreme Court, so these are the top judges this country has to offer, they have extreme expertise.

Mrs Justice Lambert QC is a highly experienced High Court Judge; her CV includes presiding over the trial into the murder and rape of Hull University student Libby Squire last year, being leading counsel in the Hillsborough inquests, and also leading counsel in the Dame Janet Smith Review over alleged misconduct by Jimmy Savile at the BBC.

She has been a High Court Judge since 2018, appointed after a 20-year career as a barrister including nine as Queen’s Counsel.

Considering all that, you would think Mrs Justice Lambert’s judgement is fairly trustworthy.

However, Attorney General Suella Braverman disagrees, saying Mrs Justice Lambert has either “made a gross error or imposed a sentence outside the range of sentences reasonably available in the circumstances of the offence”.

Well, the sentence is inside the sentencing range available – highest culpability for this offence ranges from seven to 14 years, and Smith got eight – so this must mean Mrs Justice Lambert has made a “gross error”.

It’s now up to the Court of Appeal to be the judges of that. They can either throw the referral out or consider it and either leave it the same, or increase it.