Ex-music teacher loses appeal against conviction for historic sex offence

Lord Menzies
Lord Menzies

An ex-music teacher who was convicted of historic sex crimes against his former students has had an appeal against conviction and sentence refused.

William Wright appealed against a conviction for indecent assault at the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary, sitting in Glasgow.

The case was heard by Lord Menzies, sitting with Lord Turnbull and Lord Pentland.

Jury misdirection

The appellant was convicted of two charges of using lewd, libidinous and indecent practices and behaviour towards two girls aged between 12 and 16 and one charge of indecent assault. These charges related to various incidents that all took place at the same school between 1974 and 1981. The appeal related only to part of the indecent assault charge, specifically a charge that on one occasion he dragged one of those pupils into a room, locked the door, and penetrated her mouth with his penis.

The grounds of appeal were that the trial judge had misdirected the jury in relation to corroboration of that charge, and that this part of the charge should have been taken as a separate offence rather than an escalation of the three existing charges, and not part of the same course of conduct. As such, the sentence imposed in respect of the indecent assault charge, set at four years’ imprisonment, should have been lower, as it was clear from the trial judge’s opinion that he viewed this part of the charge as a significant element that contributed to the sentence given.

The Crown submitted that there was a continual course of conduct on account of similarities between the initial offending against both girls. It acknowledged that the appellant’s behaviour against the second pupil, the abuse against whom started one year after the appellant stopped abusing the first pupil, escalated beyond his practices against the first pupil, but that did not prevent it from being part of the same course of conduct.

In both cases, the appellant was the pupil’s music teacher. He knew the mother of both pupils through the music profession and could have targeted them because he was aware that they might not say anything for fear of disappointing them. Furthermore, all of the abuse happened within the same location, the school music department, and the one-year gap between offences was not significant enough to prevent the establishment of a continued course of offending.

In both cases, the abuse happened whilst the victim was practising the piano, allowing them to be approached from behind while their hands were occupied. There was also the same underlying purpose of obtaining sexual gratification in both cases. This was accepted by counsel for the appellant, but he maintained his position regarding the final part of the third charge.

Clear statement of the law

The opinion of the court was given by Lord Menzies, who agreed with the submissions by the advocate depute. He quoted with approval a recent opinion of the Lord Justice General in Khalid Jamal v HM Advocate, who said: “There is no principle whereby what might be perceived as less serious criminal conduct, such as a non-penetrative offence, cannot provide corroboration of what is libelled as an apparently more serious crime involving penetration […]. The fundamental issue is whether the evidence demonstrates a course of conduct systematically pursued.”

He continued: “In light of that clear statement of the law, and having regard to the particular facts and circumstances of the present case, we are unable to conclude that the trial judge misdirected the jury in the way submitted on behalf of the appellant. There was sufficient evidence before the jury to enable them to conclude that the oral penetration libelled in the last three lines of charge3 formed part of the same continuing course of conduct perpetrated by the appellant against both complainers.”

For these reasons, the appeal against conviction was refused. As the appeal against sentence was contingent on the appeal against conviction, it was also refused.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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