Violent Sunderland criminal jailed indefinitely after attempted carjacking launches freedom bid

Mark Roberts
Mark Roberts

A man who was jailed a decade ago for a drunken attempted robbery today launched a Court of Appeal bid for freedom before the country’s top judge.

Mark Roberts was only 18 years old - and had only been out of prison for a few hours - when he drunkenly tried to carjack a motorist in Sunderland in 2006.

He targeted the owner of a Peugeot 107, snatching the ignition key through the window of the car, dragged the driver out and punched him.

Roberts, now 28, was jailed for attempted robbery and given an open-ended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court in May 2006.

He was ordered to serve a minimum of 359 days - but remains in prison to this day.

Today, he took his case to the Court of Appeal in a bid to overturn the indefinite imprisonment term and secure his immediate release.

His case is being heard by the nation’s top judge, the lord chief justice Lord Thomas, alongside 12 others in a test case in London.

His barrister Joel Bennathan QC told the court that open-ended sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) are a 'draconian' punishment.

As offenders are never guaranteed freedom, even if given very short minimum terms, the sentences are 'potentially a life sentence', he said.

The terms, which were introduced to detain dangerous criminals indefinitely, were such a failure that they were first reformed and then abolished completely in December 2012.

But that did not mean that those already serving them were freed, meaning Roberts and others remain in prison years after their minimum terms have been served.

"There must come a time when the period in custody is so excessive compared to what they’re convicted of," he said.

The court heard Roberts, formerly of Ridley Street, Southwick, was still a young man with a potential to change when he was jailed.

He had pleaded guilty and was remorseful, Lord Thomas, Mr Justice Underhill and Mr Justice William Davis were told.

A sentence with a guaranteed release date would have been sufficient to protect the public, they were urged.

For the prosecution, John McGuinness QC said Roberts and the other prisoners have the right to ask the Parole Board to release them.

"If the Parole Board considers it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner is confined, then the Parole Board is under a duty to order that the person be released," he said.

The judges reserved judgment on the appeal until a later date.