Four-year-sentence for man who strangled woman to death during sex branded 'outrageous'

·7 min read
Sam Pybus, 32, was drunk when he applied “prolonged” pressure to Sophie Moss’s neck at her home in Darlington in the early hours of February 7.
Sam Pybus, 32, was drunk when he applied 'prolonged' pressure to Sophie Moss’s neck at her home in Darlington in the early hours of 7 February. (Police handout)

Campaigners have branded a jail sentence of four years and eight months for a man who choked a woman to death during consensual sex as "outrageous" and "unduly lenient". 

Sam Pybus drank 24 bottled lagers in the hours before he applied “prolonged” pressure to Sophie Moss’s neck at her home in Darlington.

Judge Paul Watson QC, sentencing him at Teesside Crown Court, accepted the married defendant did not intend to kill and his remorse was genuine.

Campaigners from the group We Can't Consent to This, said on Tuesday they were "horrified" by the short sentence and called for a review by the attorney general into its leniency.

Read: Police hunt lorry driver who deliberately rammed into family home then fled

"It seems that strangling a woman to death is still viewed in law as an unfortunate accident, rather than terrible serious violence," they said. 

"This sends a dreadful message to women - four years eight months is an outrageous sentence for killing a woman."

Labour MP Harriet Harman also joined calls for a review into the sentence. 

Sam Pybus drank 24 bottles of lager in the 10 hours before he choked his casual lover Sophie Moss to death in February. (Police Handout)
Sam Pybus drank 24 bottles of lager in the 10 hours before he choked his casual lover Sophie Moss to death in February. (Police Handout)

She tweeted: "Sam Pybus killed Sophie Moss but sentence only 4 yrs 8 months. He blamed her saying "rough sex". 

"Kill your girlfriend & it's just few years' prison. Kill stranger & it's life. I'm referring to @attorneygeneral for review as Unduly Lenient Sentence."

Teeside Crown Court heard that married Pybus, who had a casual relationship with Moss without his wife's knowledge, told police his some-time lover would encourage him to strangle her during sex.

Pybus was originally charged with murder but the court heard a Home Office pathologist found that the amount of pressure applied to the vulnerable mother-of-two’s neck was towards the lower end of cases which resulted in death.

The pressure could have been applied for tens of seconds or even minutes, the court heard.

Before Pybus was jailed, Moss's devastated family had shared an emotive statement with the court, describing their sense of injustice.

Her brother James said: "We will never be able to shake the belief that whatever the nature of their relationship and her role in it that she was a victim - taken advantage of and exploited. And that she was subjected to an entirely avoidable and infinitely tragic death.”

He said hearing politicians speak passionately and citing Sophie as an example of someone who more needs to be done to protect as a female victim suffering death at the hands of a sexual partner “only compounds their feelings of injustice”.

While Pybus was jailed for four years and eight months, under current sentencing regulations he is likely to be freed on licence after serving half his term (two years four months).

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) faced criticism from domestic abuse campaigners for prosecuting Pybus for manslaughter, rather than murder.

In April, the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill came into law, aiming to put an end to the "rough sex defence", with campaigners including Labour MP Harriet Harman saying defendants using the "sex game gone wrong" defence is "the ultimate victim blaming".

After Pybus's sentencing, The CPS said it did not merely accept Pybus’s word that he did not intend to cause the 33-year-old serious harm – but that there was insufficient evidence to prove it.

Sophie Moss was described as ' joyous, vibrant, funny, talented and fearless' in a statement by her family. (Police Handout)
Sophie Moss was described as ' joyous, vibrant, funny, talented and fearless' in a statement by her family. (Police Handout)

Christopher Atkinson, of CPS North East, said: “While the defendant has always acknowledged the fatal consequences of his actions, he also claimed that it was never his intent to cause Sophie serious harm or, as was tragically the case, her death.

“We must make it very clear that the Crown Prosecution Service has not simply accepted the account put forward by the defendant, but that we have proactively determined that there was insufficient evidence capable of establishing beyond reasonable doubt that he intended the serious harm or death of Sophie Moss.

“In cases where death is caused by an unlawful act, but such intent cannot be proven, the appropriate charge to bring is one of manslaughter, for which we have built a robust case against the defendant."

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said Ms Moss lived alone and had a history of alcohol misuse, and had physical and mental health problems.

Pybus, without his wife’s knowledge, had been in a casual relationship with Ms Moss for three years, seeing her for sex around six times a year.

At 4.43am on 7 February he then drove to Darlington police station and told staff he believed he had strangled Ms Moss in her flat.

Officers found her naked and unresponsive in bed.

He was to tell detectives that during their casual sexual activity, he would apply pressure to her neck, “an act he said she encouraged and enjoyed”, Mr Wright said.

“He said sex between them was rough and he would dominate her during sexual activity, but he said he would never hurt her.”

Pybus, of Water View, Middleton St George, Darlington, told police he could only recall coming around in his boxer shorts and finding her unconscious.

Mr Wright said Pybus told detectives that “he must have strangled her but couldn’t remember doing so”.

The defendant had not rendered first aid and instead went to his car and thought about what to do for 15 minutes before driving to the police station.

Detectives made extensive inquiries and found no evidence of an argument or any reason for Pybus to harm Ms Moss, the prosecution said.

The claim that she encouraged strangulation during sex was backed up by her long-term partner, the court heard.

Sophie Moss was found naked and unresponsive at her flat in Glaisdale Court, Darlington, in the early hours of 7 February. (Google Maps)
Sophie Moss was found naked and unresponsive at her flat in Glaisdale Court, Darlington, in the early hours of 7 February. (Google Maps)

Her brother James, of behalf of the family, made a victim statement, saying: “She was joyous, vibrant, funny, talented and fearless, unless she saw a spider.”

He recalled receiving a call from their mother to say the “worst possible thing had happened” and he cried inconsolably since then.

Mr Moss said their mother Jillian devoted her life to her family and was a full-time carer for their father Roger who has dementia.

James Moss said: “Somehow we must come to terms with never knowing the full circumstances.

“We will never be able to shake the belief that whatever the nature of their relationship, and her role in it, that she was a victim, taken advantage of and exploited, and was subjected to an entirely avoidable and infinitely tragic end.”

Daniel Parkington, the father of her two boys who are five and six, said: “They have been given a life sentence.

“It’s not fair and it never will be.”

Sam Green QC, defending, said during meetings Pybus did not have self-pity, “but emotions of self-disgust and the difficulties of living with that he had done”.

Speaking of testimonials presented to the court on his behalf, Mr Green said Pybus was aware of their limited worth, saying: “Just because some people said he was a good cricketer, community-spirited and conducted himself with courtesy on the golf course, does not provide a great deal of mitigation in a case where a death has occurred.”

Judge Watson told the defendant: “This was a case in which you were voluntarily intoxicated, unable to judge the situation and perhaps to have stopped when it was obvious that you had gone too far.”

He said: “It was obviously dangerous conduct, whether consensual or otherwise.

“Dangerous in the sense that any compression of the neck creates an obvious risk of brain damage or worse as this case so tragically demonstrates.”

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