Even the most brilliant and extraordinary students can find their world undone by a single misdeed. Indeed many an aspiring lawyer or doctor have found themselves in hot water over an innocent, youthful mistake.
24-year-old Lavinia Woodward of Oxford, England had the world at her fingertips. She had paid her dues throughout college and was on her way to becoming an aspiring heart surgeon, when tragedy struck…
Lavinia met her would be boyfriend, Thomas Fairclough, on the dating app Tinder. Almost from the start, the two hit it off. After all, Fairclough recognized that Lavinia was a beautiful, intelligent, determined young woman who was well on her way to a promising career. What’s not to love?
Calling Her Mother
Eventually though, the honeymoon was over and Fairclough began to see Lavinia for what she really was, a troubled, stressed-out young woman who blew off steam by drinking heavily and doing drugs. In an effort to help her get over her liquid and chemical dependance, Thomas called her mother…
A Battle Ensues
Enraged, Lavinia came home to a bewildered Fairclough, who had believed he was helping his girlfriend get past her demons. She threw her laptop at him and as it shattered on the floor behind him, she ran into the kitchen and grabbed hold of a large, wickedly sharp bread knife.
Before he could stop her, Lavinia stabbed the young man in the leg with the bread knife, injuring his two fingers as she did so. Then, while he was still reeling from the stab wound, she began to stab herself with the knife. She was crazed and not in control, Thomas knew he had to push past the pain to save her…
Thomas Fairclough managed to disarm and restrain Lavinia before she did any more harm to him or herself, and once she calmed down, he called the police. For her own safety, and because she’d just stabbed her concerned boyfriend in a drug-addled rage, she had to be taken into custody.
She was eventually taken to stand trial before Judge Ian Pringle QC. Weeks after her night in jail, she was cognisant enough to stand before the judge and plead guilty to having punched and stabbed her now ex-boyfriend. But this was hardly the end of their story…
Extraordinary Young Girl
You see, Judge Pringle saw something in Lavinia Woodward. He saw her not as a drug-dependant medical student, but as an “extraordinarily able young lady”. One whom he believed had talents that would be wasted if she were sent to prison.
Saving Her Life
However, the judge did recognize that she did commit a crime, one that could well have resulted in the loss of not one, but two lives. It was a sticky wicket to be sure and Judge Pringle knew that if he did defer sentence, there would be a fair amount of backlash….
When she’d finally made bail, Lavinia reached out to Thomas Fairclough. She knew it was against her bail conditions, but she needed him to know that she was sorry for what had happened. She admitted she was wrong and that she needed help, but this gesture would work against her in the end.
Return to Milan
At the same time, Woodward was suspended from Oxford while awaiting sentence and had no choice but to return to her mother’s villa in Milan. She would shop the fashion outlets there and spent her days in luxury. It was hardly behavior that Judge Pringle would have considered, “becoming of an extraordinary young woman”, in the least…
In addition to her overt immaturity in regards to her own health and safety, there are reports from doctors that Lavinia suffers from an emotionally unstable personality disorder. She also has an eating disorder, and has translated all of these things into a dependance on drugs and alcohol that she has made no efforts to ameliorate before now.
Determined to Come Clean
Still, the Judge seemed to have a soft spot for the aspiring heart surgeon. While she awaited her sentencing, she made incredible strides in fighting her alcohol abuse and Pringle commended her for her “strong and unwavering determination” to address her drug addiction. But was it enough?
She returned from Milan a new woman, ready to face Oxford Crown Court and Judge Pringle. He had weighed the case heavily, taking into account the many mitigating features of Lavinia’s history and her future, and he’d come to a decision. In the end, Lavinia Woodward was sentenced to a 10-month jail sentence…suspended for 18 months.
Thanking the Judge
As she left the courtroom, Lavinia was seen mouthing to “Thank You” to the judge. She wouldn’t have to serve any time for nearly killing her boyfriend. It was a situation that didn’t exactly sit right with the public. Indeed, if she hadn’t been young, pretty, a woman, or white, the situation might have been much different…
As expected, the decision was widely criticized by criminal justice campaigners. According to them, this situation set a dangerous precedent for other men who were the victims of domestic abuse. It would mean that many of them would resist coming forward, for fear of justice not being served upon their attackers.
Of course, following the trial, things were hardly easy for Lavinia Woodward. She’d gained such notoriety that she can’t even go into a London nightclub without being recognized. She may be a different woman, but that’s partially because the world is watching to make sure she doesn’t take a drink. As for school…
May Not Return
The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, stated publicly that it remained uncertain whether or not Ms. Woodward would be allowed to return to Oxford to complete her studies. The staff was, understandably, concerned about the welfare of her fellow students. “It is clearly a matter of regret and sadness when any young person blights a promising career by committing a crime,” he added.
There are other options available to her, however, but none of them are the same as what she’d been working so hard towards earning. Lavinia’s fear of recognition has forced her to consider pursuing a PhD or research role abroad…
If She Wasn’t White…
John Azah, chief executive of the Kingston Race and Inequalities Council said: “I always struggle with how the services legislate justice when it comes to Black Minority and Ethnic and white people.” He went on to add that “If she wasn’t Oxford-educated, if she came from a deprived area, I don’t think she would have got the same sentence and been allowed to walk free.”
Class and Race
Ultimately, the true fallout from the case remains to be seen. Judge Pringle’s ruling has ignited a huge conversation about whether or not Woodward’s class and social standing may have played a part in her sentence. If you look at the facts, it absolutely did. Though it didn’t help her.