The Femicide Census has requested a review of the sentence of Mark Clowes in respect of the death of Clare Bell under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme.
Clowes was sentenced on 2 February 2024 at Stafford Crown Court following the death of Clare Bell. We are concerned that Mark Clowes was sentenced to 2 years suspended in spite of his conviction for Gross Negligence Manslaughter. The sympathy afforded to Mark Clowes throughout the sentencing remarks sits in such marked contrast to the evidence of his conduct that day, equally there was little sympathy shown for Clare who suffered serious injuries, begged for help and died after many hours – entirely conscious of her deteriorating state.
Mark Clowes was described as ‘a kind and attentive partner’, ’utterly devoted’, ‘who showed nothing but kindness’ and who imparted ‘constant loving attention’ by Justice Calver; and he references giving Clowes the ‘benefit of the doubt’ four times in the Judge’s sentencing remarks. But that description bears no relation to the evidence before the judge on their relationship the day Clare died. The couple were heard to quarrel by two separate neighbours, Clowes made disparaging and controlling remarks and completely ignored her welfare for more than 5 hours before she died. Clare was overheard by one of the neighbours, Mr. Glover, calling out to help her out of the bath. According to what was stated in the sentencing remarks Mr. Glover heard Clowes say that he would not help her, shouting back at Clare “No, I don’t want you going anywhere look at the fucking state of you”. Other overheard comments not reported in the sentencing remarks but referred to in the trial were Clare asking Clowes to help her and he was heard to reply “Shut the f*** up. Look at the state of you” and also another neighbour heard Clowes arguing with Clare and accusing her of cheating on him. Finally, by his own admission, Mark Clowes ignored her when she told him she was going to die and kept saying she was on her way out.
We have documented over 2,000 cases of femicide occurring in the UK since 2009. 58% were women killed by a current or former partner. Abusive men very often appear kind and considerate in front of others, but when they are or think they are unobserved, they show who they really are. There was no evidence on the day of Clare’s death that Clowes displayed any love or kindness towards her. The evidence, through his admitted conduct and overhead by two separate and independent witnesses, in fact shows that Clowes was angry, controlling, accusatory and steadfast in his refusal to help a seriously injured woman – the exact opposite of a kind, attentive and loving man. It cannot be assumed that is was out of character for him, nor inconsistent with his behaviour in their relationship.
The level of Clare’s suffering was minimised by the Judge referring to an expert report that the effects of her intoxication when put into the bath may have impacted on her sense of pain, ruling that significant physical suffering “is not established on the facts” of the case. The expert extract used by the Judge references only being put into the bath. Yet Clowes’ own evidence referred to in the sentencing remarks dispute this: ‘You said she told you that she was going to die and kept saying she was on the way out.’ This shows that Clare was able to comprehend her own suffering and recognised that she was going to die. The evidence to prove she experienced significant physical suffering does not therefore come from the experts, but from her own words as testified by the man who steadfastly failed to help her. The level of pain and distress she was experiencing, given that she spent hours with untreated burns over 30% of her body, was significant enough for her to accurately understand the likelihood of and repeatedly voice concern about her eventual death. She was not comatose or non-verbal, she was coherent and aware enough to foretell her impending death. That devastating awareness can only have been based on her recognising her body was failing, and knowing that the only person able to help was refusing to do so. It must have been devastating and traumatic for Clare over the course of many hours (a fact not referenced by the judge) especially considering that unlike the person she was seeking help from, she had not had a drink for many hours.
The Judge described Clowes as ‘fully accepting his role in Clare’s death’ but that is at odds with the case history. Clowes pleaded not guilty throughout all pre-trial hearings for over 3 years and was only convicted after a jury trial. He maintained his innocence and did not plead guilty at the earliest opportunity which is usual when ‘fully accepting” a role in the manslaughter of another. He forced Clare’s family to endure a 3-week trial where the awful circumstances of her death were re-told that proved impossible for her mother to sit through.
The 2-year prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, seems at odds with other sentences for Gross Negligence Manslaughter recently imposed. Mr. Justice Calvert repeats that this case was ‘exceptional’, but there are similarities with other cases – all of which resulted in a custodial sentence:
In the case of R v Broadhurst (2018): Broadhurst pleaded guilty to Gross Negligence Manslaughter. The presiding judge Mr. Julian Knowles held that the case was at the Upper End of Category C because ‘You were very significantly responsible for causing or permitting Natalie to get into the position whereby she needed medical help which you failed to summon in circumstances where her need for help was obvious’ after describing him as a loving father, who loved Natalie, and who had no previous convictions. He was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months.
- In 2019, Sarah Morris was sentenced to 3 years for Gross negligence Manslaughter after her baby drowned in the bath after she left her for 47 minutes.
- Simone Perry was jailed for 22 months for leaving her baby in the bath who drowned in 2021.
- Kelsey Harrison was jailed for 5 years after the death of her child in the bath.
- In 2017, Michael Bowditch was given 5.5 years for Gross Negligence Manslaughter following the drowning of 17-year-old Becky Morgan in the sea. Bowditch watched her drown and did nothing to help even though she said she could not swim.
- Wayne Dale and Lisa Paisley were jailed for 4.5 years after their child drowned in the bath when they were downstairs.
All of these cases are at odds with the suspended sentence handed down to Mark Clowes. Clare was an adult woman, a mother, and not a child; but her alcohol dependence made her vulnerable and when placed in a hot bath whilst intoxicated, she was dependent on Mark Clowes. She was reliant on him to get her in and out of the bath. Had she not been seriously burned, she could easily have drowned. It is devastating to say it but drowning may have involved less suffering. We cannot comprehend what she endured all the while being conscious and very aware of her deteriorating state.
We request that these points, all based on evidence presented to Mr Justice Calver, merit review of the unduly lenient sentence imposed.
Clarrie O’Callaghan, Femicide Census
Karen Ingala Smith, Femicide Census
With support of
Jonathan Gullis, MP, Stoke-on-Trent (where Clare Bell was a constituent)
Rosie Duffield. MP
Jess Phillips, MP
Aaron Bell, MP
Anna Ryder, Killed Women