Oxford med student walks free after sentencing—judge’s reason drew some ire

An Oxford medical student stabbed her boyfriend in the leg with a bread knife after she flew into a drug-and-alcohol-induced rage. After the judge postponed her sentencing for four months, he then declared her to be “too bright” to be given a prison sentence.

A medical student, Lavinia Woodward, 24, was studying to become a heart surgeon at Oxford University, but her hopes were dashed when she stabbed her Cambridge University boyfriend, Thomas Fairclough, in the leg with a bread knife in May. Woodward stood trial and pleaded guilty to assault.

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Woodward admitted to being under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time. The court heard that she became violent when she discovered that Fairclough contacted her mother after finding out she had been drinking. Woodward punched him in the face, then threw her laptop, a glass, and a jam jar at him, injuring two of his fingers. She then stabbed him in the leg with a bread knife.

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The court heard that Woodward became hysterical and proceeded to turn the knife on herself. Judge Ian Pringle said that he would take an “exceptional course” and postponed sentencing for four months. Judge Pringle said that Woodward was an “extraordinarily able young lady” and that sending Woodward to prison would be “too severe.”

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Woodward returned to her mother’s villa in Milan after standing trial. She then apparently broke her bail conditions by texting Fairclough and apologizing.

Upon Woodward’s return to court in September, her lawyer, James Sturman QC, requested that she be given a suspended sentence due to her “unique vulnerability, remorse, and good character.”

Sturman pleaded on Woodward’s behalf, saying that she had undergone a “sea change” since coming off drugs and is now a “different woman.”

Upon sentencing, Judge Pringle said that there had been “many, many mitigating features” in the case. He gave Woodward a 10-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months.

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Criminal justice campaigners criticized the ruling, saying that the judge’s leniency in the case would put men who are victims of abuse off from coming forward.

Despite Woodward not respecting her bail conditions, Woodward was commended by Judge Pringle for confessing her remorse for what she had done.

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“Although it was against your bail conditions, you contacted your partner to fully confess your guilt and your deep sorrow for what happened,” said the judge. “You have no previous convictions of any nature whatsoever. I find that you were genuinely remorseful following this event.”

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Judge Pringle admitted she had “an emotionally unstable personality disorder, a severe eating disorder, and alcohol-drug dependence,” and she had demonstrated that she was “determined” to rid herself of her addiction, as she had undergone extensive treatment and counseling.

Woodward silently mouthed “thank you” to the judge and left the dock in tears.

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The Dean of Christ Church, Martyn Percy, said he did not know if Woodward would be permitted to return to Oxford to complete her medical studies.

She has since been considering pursuing her Ph.D. or research abroad for fear of having become too recognizable at Oxford. Mr. Sturman said that for Woodward to give up her medical ambitions would be a “tragedy.”