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Woman to be freed from prison after pregnancy discovery

A woman jailed for concealing a handgun who later discovered she was pregnant will be released from prison after the Court of Appeal reduced her sentence.

The woman was jailed at Woolwich Crown Court on June 15 last year after admitting to stashing a self-loading pistol and three bullets belonging to her then-boyfriend for around a fortnight in February 2023.

At a hearing in London last week, the Court of Appeal heard that she had since been found to be pregnant and is due to give birth in February this year.

Lawyers for the 22-year-old argued that this made the sentence disproportionate and posed risks to the health of the baby and the mother.

Three appeal judges agreed and quashed her sentence, instead giving her a two-year sentence, suspended for two years.

In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Andrew Baker, who heard the case with Lord Justice Holroyde and Mr Justice Garnham, said: “We are satisfied that when the appellant’s pregnancy and its specific attendant consequences and risks, for the appellant and her unborn baby, are added to the other personal mitigation available to the appellant, there are exceptional circumstances relating to the appellant and her particular offence that, taken together, render it unjust to impose a custodial term of at least five years.

“The experience of custody was going to be, and has proved, traumatic and dangerous for this appellant beyond any kind of norm.

“By the date of the appeal hearing, she had in fact served the equivalent of a 14-month sentence, but the weight of punishment that has constituted for her will have been qualitatively equivalent to a much stiffer sentence.”

He added: “In all those circumstances, and on balance, we concluded that it was in the interests of justice to take the very exceptional course, for an offence of possessing the weapon involved in this case, of suspending the appellant’s sentence.”

The three judges deemed that the woman became pregnant between her entering a guilty plea in March last year and her being sentenced almost three months later.

They said that the woman only became aware that she was pregnant during routine testing at the start of her prison sentence, which would have “undoubtedly” influenced the sentencing judge’s decision “if it had then been known”.

Since discovering she was pregnant, the woman was being held in a mother and baby unit at her prison, which she could have stayed on until her child was 18 months old.

Pippa Woodrow, representing the woman, told the court that while pregnancy did not automatically mean a prisoner should be released, it made the five-year sentence “arbitrary and disproportionate”.

The court heard that the woman – who had no previous convictions – had “impeccable prospects of rehabilitation” and “has experienced real joy at being pregnant”, with the interests of the unborn baby a “weighty factor” in the judges’ decision.

While the judges said that gun crime had “devastating seriousness”, they accepted that pregnancy made prison an “unusually onerous punishment”.