Man who fire-bombed two houses loses appeal against attempted murder conviction

Lord Carloway
Lord Carloway

A man found guilty of attempted murder after fire-bombing two houses in a revenge attack following an assault on his younger brother has had an appeal against conviction rejected.

Naveed Iqbal, who originally faced trial along with three others, was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment for instigating the crimes, but claimed that the Crown’s decision to withdraw the libel again two of the co-accused and the acquittal of the other meant that “no reasonable jury” could have returned the guilty verdict against him.

However, the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary refused that appeal after ruling that there was a “cogent framework of evidence” which entitled the jury to find him guilty.

‘He’ll be getting done in’

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull, heard that the appellant was found guilty in November 2017 of two charges of attempted murder by fire-bombing two houses in Glenrothes at about 11.30pm on 28 March 2017.

The first of these, at 5 Adrian Road, involved members of the McLaren family, including Dayle McLaren, then aged 16, and the second, at 1 Alexander Road, which was at the junction of two roads, involved the house of the Spinks family. 

The court was told that, at the beginning of March 2017, Mr McLaren had been involved in an attack on the appellant’s younger brother at McDonald’s in Glenrothes, which was recorded and posted on Facebook by Craig Morgan, who was the son of the appellant’s friend, and who showed the video to the appellant.

On 10 March Mr Morgan was driven around Glenrothes by the appellant in an attempt to locate Mr McLaren’s house, during which appellant had said that they needed to find out “100%” which house was his, adding that “he’ll be getting done in”.

The libel was originally against four accused and the Crown’s intention, at the start of the trial, was to prove that the appellant had instigated the crimes, even though he was not present at the loci - having been at home in Leven. 

Ryan Easton was said to be the fire-bomber and James Simpson and Jamie McHugh were associates of Mr Easton and involved in facilitating the crimes in some way.

During the course of the trial, the Crown withdrew the libel against Simpson and McHugh.

In a somewhat unusual move, the advocate depute told the court, but with the jury absent, that the Crown’s revised position was that they were “innocent” of the charges, and in another interesting development, the jury found the case against Mr Easton “not proven”.

This resulted in the appellant being convicted on the basis that he had instigated the crimes by engaging someone, whom the Crown maintained was Mr Easton, to commit them whilst the charges against Mr Easton were not proven and the others, whom the Crown had originally said had been involved, had been declared innocent.

‘No reasonable jury could have convicted’

This set of circumstances led the appellant to maintain that no reasonable jury, properly directed, could have returned the guilty verdict against the appellant on the evidence presented.

It was submitted that the Crown had been “duped” into leading and relying upon the evidence of Simpson and McHugh, who denied any involvement and claimed that on 11 March 2017 they had attended the garage owned by the appellant, where had referred to his brother being injured in a fight and talking about getting back at the people who had done it, saying that the appellant said he was getting it “sorted”.

It was the Crown’s initial position that Simpson and McHugh, who had been in the general area at the time of the fire-bombings and had gone to the appellant’s garage on the following day, had been involved in the plan, yet they had changed their position mid-trial. 

The Crown also failed to lead evidence from the person (Mr Morgan’s father) who had allegedly been the recipient of the phone call from the appellant during the post-fire-bombing drive.

The appellant had deleted phone calls from Mr Simpson, but that ceased to be significant once Mr Simpson had been declared innocent, and there was no telephony evidence to connect the appellant with the perpetrator, whoever that may have been.

That being so, and with Simpson and McHugh out of the picture, the jury would have had to have found that it had been pure chance that they had taken a complete stranger (to the appellant) to the appellant’s garage and that the stranger (Mr Easton) had then agreed to carry out the fire-bombings.

It was argued that the accounts of Simpson and McHugh were “preposterous and absurd”, and so implausible that no reasonable jury could have accepted them, while the approach of the Crown was “illogical at best”.

‘Cogent framework of evidence’

However, the appeal judges ruled that there was in any event sufficient evidence to entitled the jury to convict the appellant.

Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice General said: “The legal sufficiency is derived initially from the evidence of Mr Morgan. If accepted, this demonstrated, first, that the appellant had a motive for doing violence to Mr McLaren stemming from the attack on his brother less than a month before the fire- bombings. Secondly, it showed that, less than three weeks beforehand, the appellant had carried out reconnaissance on the very two houses which were attacked… Thirdly, Mr Morgan’s evidence was to the effect that the appellant had threatened violence to Mr McLaren at the end of the reconnaissance mission.

“Leaving aside, for the moment, the testimony of Messrs Simpson and McHugh, there were a number of facts and circumstances to be taken into account in order to supply the necessary corroboration. The most obvious one was that the fire-bombings did occur. Having regard to the threats and reconnaissance, the jury would have been entitled to the view that this was not coincidental.

“There were the deleted calls from Mr Simpson’s phone to the appellant at or about the time of the fire-bombings. The fact of deletion was a criminative circumstance, no matter how weak. Finally, there was the appellant’s keen interest in the fire-bombings in the days immediately following. Although this too may not be the strongest factor, the jury would have been entitled to regard it as criminative when combined with the earlier threats and reconnaissance. 

“This would all have been sufficient upon which to base a guilty verdict. It is a cogent framework of evidence, which the jury would have entitled to accept, irrespective of their view of the testimony of Messrs Simpson and McHugh.”

Lord Carloway added: “The jury would have been entitled to reject their denial and consider, on the basis of the rest of their evidence and the surrounding circumstances, that they had been involved in some way, despite the acceptance of their not guilty pleas by the advocate depute. That acceptance did not provide them with a certificate of innocence which was binding on the jury. If the jury rejected their denials, they would not thereby be precluded from accepting their testimony about the appellant’s threats and his post event admission. Their acceptance of that testimony would have been entirely legitimate in terms of the general direction that they would be entitled to accept parts of a witness’s evidence and reject others.

“The short point is that it remained for the jury to decide what parts, if any, of the testimony of the socii criminis to accept and what to reject. Whatever flaws there may have been, the jury were not bound to reject the entirety of their evidence. 

“On the contrary, they could accept that the appellant had threatened violence towards Mr McLaren in advance of the fire-bombings and, perhaps more significant, had admitted instructing the fire-bombings on the day after they had occurred. There was accordingly a cogent framework of evidence that the jury were entitled to accept as credible and reliable and which entitled them to return the verdicts of guilty.”

The court also refused rejected the appellant’s contention that, although the charges were serious, the sentence imposed was “excessive”.

The opinion stated: “Notwithstanding the appellant’s largely crime free and both stable and productive background, having regard to the potential catastrophic effects of these crimes, it cannot be said that the sentence imposed for multiple attempted murders was excessive.”

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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