High Court reduces sentence of gang member convicted of attempted murder of rival

The High Court of Justiciary has reduced the sentence of a man who was convicted of the attempted murder of a rival gang member after his case was referred to the court by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Dillin Armstrong, who was 24 at the time of the offence, was given an extended sentence of 13 years, 10 of them custodial, after he attacked another man in Musselburgh on Hogmanay 2018. He appeared alongside five other co-accused at trial, all of whom were part of the same gang. All but one of them were also charged with attempted murder.

The appeal was heard by the Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lord Woolman and Lord Pentland. The appellant was represented by J Keenan, solicitor advocate, and the Crown by J McDonald, solicitor advocate.

Previous convictions

On the night in question, the complainer had gone with three members of his gang to the appellant’s house. After breaking in, he was chased by the appellant and his co-accused, who caught up to him and attacked him, including with a knife and a metal pole. Many of his injuries were potentially life-threatening and he required 16 stitches for an injury to his torso.

A Criminal Justice Social Work Report prepared on behalf of the appellant recorded that he had a troubled background, had no qualifications, and had offended as a child. He had a total of 18 previous convictions ranging from breach of the peace to assault to injury and permanent disfigurement. He had spent substantial periods of remand and 22 months in custody. It was noted that at the time of the offence he had become convinced that the complainer and his gang were there to steal his cocaine.

Of the appellant’s four co-accused also charged with attempted murder, who were aged between 16 and 21 years old, all had their sentences reduced following sentencing appeals. The SCCRC reasoned that, given the significant roles played by the other co-accused in the assault, it did not seem appropriate the appellant’s sentence should be longer than the 7-year headline sentence imposed on Dean Renton, a 21-year-old co-accused who had struck the complainer on the head with a large stone.

It was submitted that it had been unnecessary to impose an extended sentence in these circumstances. The appellant was in a stable relationship and had a two-year-old daughter, and his previous convictions were all at a summary level. It was also noted that he suffered from ADHD and has not been taking his medication at the time of the offence. The issue of comparative justice was also discussed.

Little room for distinction

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Carloway, who began by noting: “The principle of comparative justice is an important one. Co-accused persons who have been convicted of the same, or a similar, offence, ought to attract substantially the same sentences. If it were otherwise, the sentences, or at least one of them, will be perceived to be unfair.”

Assessing whether it was fair for the appellant’s sentence to be markedly different to Mr Renton’s, he went on to say: “It is not easy to see why, when compared to those 5 and 6 year terms imposed on the teenaged participants, a headline custodial disposal of only 7 years was selected. Given the additional use of the paving slab, the court is driven to the conclusion that Mr Renton’s sentence on appeal was significantly lenient.”

However, he added: “Nevertheless, Mr Renton’s sentence cannot be ignored. It must, as a matter of comparative justice, be taken into account when dealing with the appellant’s appeal. There is little room for any distinction in relation to record, although the appellant does have a larger number of assault convictions.”

Lord Carloway concluded: “The SCCRC concluded that an extended sentence was merited in the appellant’s case. The court agrees; standing the violent nature of the appellant’s participation in the offence, his record and the terms of the CJSWR in relation to his lack of remorse, empathy or attempts to rehabilitate himself in prison. Having regard to the principle of comparative justice, the sentence imposed by the trial judge must be reduced.”

For these reasons, the court reduced the appellant’s sentence, substituting an 11-year extended sentence with a custodial element of 8 years.

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