Man spent ‘three times too long’ behind bars for fake handgun sentence

A MAN jailed indefinitely for pulling a fake handgun on a man outside a nightclub has been freed on appeal – after serving three times longer behind bars than he should have done.

Top judges ruled Dominic Bates, 24, of Northorpe Road, Donington, had wrongly been condemned as a ‘dangerous’ offender and should never have been handed an indefinite sentence.

Bates was handed detention for public protection (IPP) – which is almost identical to a life sentence – at Teesside Crown Court in May 2006, when he was just 18.

But judges sitting at London’s Criminal Appeal Court on Thursday replaced the open-ended punishment with a conventional four-year term.

If Bates had been given that sentence initially, he would have been entitled to automatic release after serving just two years behind bars.

Instead he has spent six years in youth detention – with no possibility of release unless the Parole Board considered he was no longer a danger.

Judge Paul Batty QC told the court Bates pulled a handgun on a man who was urininating outside the Chicago Rock nightclub, in Middlesbrough, in November 2005.

The terrified victim fled and flagged down a passing police car. A helicopter unit and armed police helped to find Bates – who was hiding nearby.

He was found with a copy of a Glock 9mm pistol, which could not fire live ammunition, one blank cartridge, and a live .22 rifle round - which he said was his ‘lucky bullet’. He told officers he carried the gun for his own protection.

Bates admitted possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and possessing ammunition without a certificate.

The court was told Bates had previous convictions, including one from 2002 for possessing an imitation firearm where he hijacked a vehicle using an air rifle.

Sentencing him, the crown court judge concluded he was a danger to the public and said he had an ‘unhealthy interest’ in weapons.

His lawyers argued the judge was wrong to find he was ‘dangerous’ on the evidence, which included a report that there was not a high risk of him causing more serious harm to people.

Allowing the appeal, Judge Batty said there was not enough evidence to conclude Bates was ‘dangerous’ and quashed his indefinite jail term – replacing it with a four-year sentence.

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Pitchford and Mrs Justice Macur, added: “This court is entirely satisfied that the assumption of dangerousness, having regard to the material before the judge, was a wrong one.

“The finding should not have been made.”

About 6,000 prisoners in England and Wales are currently serving IPP sentences, which have been blamed for prison over-crowding and which the Government is proposing to abolish after fears were raised they were being used too widely.