SHARE

The Oxford medical student at the centre of a public outcry over allegedly lenient sentencing after she wounded her ex-boyfriend with a knife has been forced to deactivate her Facebook account because she and her lawyer have received abusive threats.

Lavinia Woodward, 24, has been told that if she stays off drugs and does not reoffend, she may avoid a prison sentence – immediate or suspended – when she returns to court in September.

She has admitted a section 20 wounding charge in relation to stabbing her former boyfriend in the leg and cutting his fingers with a breadknife during an alcohol and drug-fuelled row at Christ Church College.

The widely reported Oxford crown court case has triggered accusations that she received preferential treatment because she is so academically bright, and has generated broader charges of class bias within the justice system. Many comments have suggested that a defendant from a different background would have been sent straight to prison.

After her case was brought to public attention in press reports earlier this week, pictures from her Facebook account were published across the media, and she began to receive threatening messages.

The full details of the case have not been published. The 24-year-old student was described to the court as very vulnerable with psychiatric issues. She is already in rehab. A psychiatric report and a pre-sentence report both concluded that the effect of sending her to jail would be “catastrophic”.

Her ex-partner, a Cambridge University student who she met on the dating app Tinder, did not need hospital treatment. His fingers were steri-stripped and his 1cm leg wound required stitches which were inserted at the scene.

Woodward pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. A representative of her college attended as a character witness to support her at the hearing. Woodward was said to have achieved the highest marks in medicine given to any student for many years and has been mentored by a top heart surgeon. It was acknowledged that she may now have to pursue an alternative career – a result which, it was said, would be a loss for the profession.

While the mitigating factors in the sentencing guidelines ask judges to consider whether a defendant has shown otherwise good character or exemplary conduct, there is no specific mention of academic achievement or intelligence. The judge’s comments that she was was an “extraordinarily able lady” and her defence counsel’s reference to her being “bright” – which have attracted public attention to the case – may therefore not be relevant to her sentencing.

Francis FitzGibbon QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, dismissed suggestions that the judge’s approach reflected any bias. “I can’t see any evidence that this was doing her a favour because she was a student at Oxford,” he said. “He has given her a chance to get clean.

“The purpose of these guidelines was to introduce consistency in sentencing, to stop a judge taking an unduly favourable view of someone because they come from a particular class or background. I can’t see any evidence of that in this case.”

The judge, Judge Ian Pringle QC, said he believed the attack was “a complete one-off”. He assessed the offence as probably being at most a category 2 offence under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines for assault and wounding; the defence argued it was a category 3.

The deferred sentence imposed conditions on Woodward, to remain drug and alcohol free and to commit no further offences. The judge said he wished to give her the chance to prove she could continue to rehabilitate herself. Pringle also handed down a five-year restraining order preventing Woodward from having any contact with the victim.

Her ex-partner was not seriously injured, there was no premeditation and she had no previous criminal history. A category 3 offence would normally be dealt with by way of community service; a category 2 offence would have a starting point of a sentence that could be suspended.

Woodward, who attended court, has now returned to Milan where her mother lives. Her defence barrister, James Sturman QC, told the court that Woodward had experienced a “very troubled life” and had been abused by a former partner. Sturman himself has now received threats because of the mitigation he presented on her behalf in court.

Many online comments about the case assume, incorrectly, that Woodward has already been sentenced. One on Twitter, for example, declared: “Rich, upper class and white, stabs a man while high on drugs, gets a slap on the wrist, fuck the law and its system”.

Use of a weapon would have counted as an aggravating factor in assessing the offence but the breadknife was merely an object to hand rather than something she had fetched with intent to use. The court also heard that she stabbed herself with the blade.

Paul Mendelle QC, a former chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, commented: “The defendant did not receive preferential treatment but was scrupulously dealt with in accordance with the guidelines. Indeed, she is arguably worse off because she lives in Italy; had she been living here, she could have received a community penalty straight away without a period of deferral.”