A man who killed a woman by strangling her during sex has only been sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.
32-year-old Sam Pybus from Darlington accepted he had killed 33-year-old Sophie Moss by applying pressure to her neck in February this year. Pybus argued that the sex, albeit "rough", was consensual and denied any intention to hurt her.
At the time of her death, the mother of two was living alone and was described in court as "a vulnerable individual who endured poor physical and mental health." Moss' children were living with their father.
During the trial, the court heard how Pybus, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, had drank "24 bottles of beer" before the pair had sex.
After Pybus was handed just four years, women's rights campaigners argued the sentence sends a "dreadful message to women."
"It seems that strangling a woman to death is still viewed in law as an unfortunate accident, rather than terrible serious violence," said a spokesperson for We Can’t Consent To This. The organisation campaigns against the use of "rough sex" as a defence in cases of violence against women and girls.
Earlier this year, justice minister Alex Chalk said: "Perpetrators of these crimes should be under no illusions – their actions will never be justifiable in any way, and they will be pursued rigorously through the courts to seek justice for victims and their families."
His statement came after the government clarified the law surrounding the "rough sex" defence. "A person cannot consent to actual bodily harm or to other more serious injury or, by extension, to their own death," the government stated.
But We Can’t Consent To This said that Pybus' case showed the law is ineffective. "This [case] sends a dreadful message to women – four years, eight months is an outrageous sentence for killing a woman. We don’t think this is how the law should work – and look to the government now to see what they intend to do."
Moss and Pybus had engaged in a sexual relationship on-and-off in the three years leading up to her death. They were both in other relationships at the time, and on the night in question Pybus told the court he'd arranged to go to Moss’ house for sex after his wife had gone to bed.
He denied remembering what happened, and said he had little recollection of the circumstances that resulted in her death. Pybus said he thought he must have strangled her because his hands were hurting, and upon waking up to find Moss naked and unresponsive, he went to his car instead of doing first aid and then drove to the police station after thinking about what to do for 15 minutes.
A postmortem found that Moss had died from strangulation. The pathologist revealed that her injuries did "not suggest either very prolonged or very forceful strangulation or strangulation which was actively resisted."
Prosecutor Richard Wright, QC told the court that Pybus claimed sex between him and Moss was "always rough and that he would dominate her during their sexual activity but that he would never go so far as to hurt her."
Wright added that Pybus admitted he would sometimes apply "mild pressure" to her neck during sex, which he claimed was "an act that she encouraged and enjoyed."
Speaking to Teeside crown court, Moss' brother, James, said she was "joyous, vibrant, funny, talented and fearless." He added that their family would "never be able to shake the belief" that she was "a victim, taken advantage of and exploited, and was subjected to an entirely avoidable and infinitely tragic end."
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