Murderer gets 1977 sentence

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A MAN found guilty of a killing that sparked one of Lancaster's longest murder inquiries will serve less time in jail than he would if he'd committed the crime today.

Brian Garrity learned this week that he can apply for parole in 2015 - his sentence reflecting the guidelines in force at the time of the murder of 72-year-old petrol station attendant Charles Gunn in Lancaster in 1977.

Garrity was jailed for 'life' in 2002 after his marriage broke down and his ex-wife provided evidence to convict him.

On Monday, after reviewing his case, High Court judge, Mr Justice Butterfield, said that, under tougher sentencing guidelines now in force, Garrity would have received a minimum sentence - or "tariff" - of 23 years for the murder.

However, he said Garrity's tariff had to be set in line with sentencing policies in 1977 and the judge fixed his tariff at 14 years.

Garrity will also be entitled to credit for the almost seven months he was held in custody before being sentenced.

Brian Garrity's responsibility for the savage murder of Mr Gunn in 1977 only came to light in December 2000 following the breakdown of his marriage.

It was only then that his then wife disclosed that, on the night of the killing, Garrity had gone out carrying a hammer, later returning covered in blood and with a large sum of money.

Garrity, now in his 50s, then of Woodacre Road, Ribbleton, finally admitted the murder of Mr Gunn at Preston Crown Court in March 2002 and was jailed for life.

Mr Justice Butterfield said Gerrity had previously worked at the Dutton Forshaws filling station in Lancaster, where Mr Gunn worked as a late-night pump attendant, and knew there would be money there.

Late at night on November 6 1977, he went to the garage equipped with a claw hammer intent on burglary. But he was disturbed by Mr Gunn and Garrity struck him "three forceful blows" to the head with the hammer.

Although Mr Gunn was found still alive the next morning, he died four weeks later in hospital after contracting meningitis as a result of his injuries.

Urging that he be treated leniently, Garrity's lawyers pointed to his guilty plea and what they said was his "exceptional progress" behind bars.

They also argued that he had gone to the garage on a burglary expedition and the murder was unpremeditated.

But Mr Justice Butterfield described it as "a brutal and savage murder" and, were Garrity being sentenced for the first time today, a 23-year minimum tariff would have been "appropriate".

The judge, whilst accepting that Garrity's behaviour behind bars had been "satisfactory", said that it fell a long way short of being so "exceptional" as to justify a lower tariff.

Monday's ruling means that Garitty can apply for parole in late 2015.

However, even then he will only be freed if the Parole Board is satisfied it is safe to do so.