KILLING PUTS LAW IN DOCK; THE Strangling of Liverpool Woman Nicole Lewis Is Leading to a Change in the Law. JENNY WATSON Reports

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Byline: JENNY WATSON

THE tragic case of an aspiring model strangled by her former partner has prompted the government to change the law on murder.

Mother-of-twoNicole Lewis was 24 when she was killed by hotel chef Mark Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, 28,had beaten Nicole several times before but was sentenced to only four years after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.

Now it has emerged that the case is to lead to a change in the law.

Solicitor general Harriet Harman, who was made aware of the case after it was highlighted by the ECHO,has recommended that the defence of provocation in killings should be scrapped.

During his court case, Wilkinson, from Tuebrook, said Nicole had threatened to move to Manchester with the couple's two young children and a ``red mist'' descended on him.

He claimed Nicole, who had fled to a refuge for battered women, had driven him to kill her on an afternoon in March 2002 after talking about her new boyfriend.

In September 2002 a jury cleared him of murder, convicting him instead on the lesser charge of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.

Liverpool recorder David Clarke sentenced him to four years,provoking outrage from Nicole's mother,Vanessa Briggs.

Hundreds of readers contacted the ECHO to protest at the sentence.

After the outcry,Ms Harman referred the case to appeal judges.

But in December 2002, the appeal courts refused to extend Wilkinson's sentence, saying it was not for them to change the law.

Today,Ms Harman promised to change the law by summer 2004.

Nicole's mother Vanessa, 50, today welcomed the move and said she hoped it would stop other families suffering.

Ms Harman, the House of Commons most senior lawyer, said: ``The Wilkinson case personally convinced me the law needs to change.

``I came to visit CPS lawyers in Liverpool last year just after the verdict.

``Everybody in the office was very concerned and I also read the ECHO's coverage.

``Nicole's family suffered a treble agony. First, Wilkinson killed their daughter, second,his defence blackened their daughter's name in court and third,neither she nor they were able to say: `No, she wasn't like that.' ``I referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal.

``When they turned down the appeal, the judges said they were operating within the law as it stands and it was for the government to change law or sentencing policy. …