Man who murdered ex-partner loses appeal against ‘excessive’ 19-year punishment part

Lord Menzies
Lord Menzies

A man who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of the murder of his ex-partner has had an appeal against the punishment part of his sentence refused.

Frazer Neil was ordered to serve a minimum of 19 years in prison after being convicted by a majority verdict at the High Court in Glasgow on 1 November 2018 of killing his former partner Hannah Dorans at a flat in Edinburgh in February 2017, by striking her on the head and body before strangling her, in what the trial judge described as a “premeditated murder”.

He claimed that the punishment part imposed was “excessive” for a “first offender” of previous “good character”, but the High Court of Justiciary Appeal Court refused the appeal.

‘Planned killing’

Lord Menzies, Lord Glennie and Lord Turnbull heard that the appellant and the deceased were in a relationship for about five years and lived together, prior to the deceased finishing the relationship on 29 January 2017 and moving out to live with her parents.

The Crown position at trial was that the murder, which took place within the appellant’s flat on 11 February 2017, was a “planned killing”.

Several witnesses spoke to the appellant being dominant, controlling and possessive of the deceased.

He controlled her email and Facebook account and was in charge of her finances.

In the period leading up to 11 February 2017 there was a large number of text message exchanges, some of which suggested that the appellant was jealous and possibly angry that the deceased was seeing a work colleague.

They varied from expressions of love, along with threats to kill himself, to statements suggestive of wanting to harm the deceased.

The Crown relied upon these messages to show the build-up to the killing and suggested they were apparently designed to reassert control and latterly, to get the deceased to come to his flat.

There was also evidence led that on 10 February 2017, the day before the killing, and after the deceased had agreed to come to the flat, search terms were entered on the appellant’s computer consisting of the words “culpable homicide”, “diminished responsibility”, and “sentence”.

On the morning of 11 February 2017 the appellant telephoned the police and confessed that he had killed the deceased, repeatedly saying “I’ve killed her” and “I didn’t mean to do it”, and that he had “strangled her”.

The agreed cause of death was compression of the neck and in the evidence of the pathologist this resulted from strangulation by the use of a ligature.

‘Miscarriage of Justice’

The appellant admitted that he killed the deceased but stated in evidence that he had “complete memory loss” and could not say what happened.

The defence case was directed to the possibility that the appellant killed the deceased during consensual sexual intercourse involving the sexual practice of “erotic asphyxiation”.

However, having been found guilty the appellant appealed against both conviction and sentence, but leave to appeal against conviction was refused.

Senior counsel submitted that the appellant, who was 25 at the time of sentence, was a first offender with a “previous good character” and “good work history”, who suffered from physical and mental health problems, and who had demonstrated “remorse” for what he had done.

It was clear that the appellant was unable to cope with his rejection by the deceased, but he had admitted responsibility for her death and there was evidence that he had tried to resuscitate her.

It was also pointed out that the jury had made important deletions to the charge, including an allegation of rape, and that there was no suggestion of previous domestic violence.

It was accepted that the trial judge had to take account of all the circumstances surrounding the offence, and the evidence that it was premeditated, but it was argued that in balancing those factors the trial judge “fell into error”.

Reference was made to other cases to argue that a punishment part of 19 years was “excessive” and resulted in a “miscarriage of justice”.

‘Premeditated murder’

Refusing the appeal, the judges were not persuaded that the punishment part imposed was excessive in the circumstances.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lord Menzies said: “We do not consider that much assistance can be derived from looking at other cases of murder in which punishment parts have been imposed. Every murder is a terrible crime, and it is neither appropriate nor productive for this court to carry out an exercise of balancing the awfulness of one murder against the awfulness of another.”

In HM Advocate v Boyle 2010 SCCR 103, in which the accused was given a punishment part of 20 years, the court gave some guidance on sentencing, but it was made clear that the guidelines and should be treated as such: “The circumstances in which murders are committed and the circumstances of offenders vary substantially. It is important that sentencers should retain sufficient discretion in selecting a punishment part as to allow them to take the particular circumstances appropriately into account.”

Lord Menzies added: “In the present case we are satisfied that the sentencing judge did indeed take the particular circumstances appropriately into account. As was accepted by senior counsel for the appellant, she was entitled to take the view that this was a premeditated murder, and it is clear from the terms of the pathologist’s evidence that the appellant compressed the neck of the deceased for a relatively long time.

“This was a premeditated murder involving prolonged compression of the neck and the use of extremely high force. It is clear from her report that the sentencing judge took account of the deletions from the libel, that the appellant was 25 years old with no history of violent offending, and who had been in employment and made a contribution to society by undertaking voluntary work in a caring role. She also took account of his epilepsy and mental health issues.”

The court concluded: “We are unable to conclude that she fell into any error in balancing these factors. We are not persuaded that a punishment part of 19 years was excessive in all the circumstances of this case.”

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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