Judges rule ‘very little required to corroborate single positive identification’ in refusing appeal against statutory breach of the peace conviction
A man found guilty of a statutory breach of the peace who claimed there was “insufficient proof” that he committed the offence has had an appeal against conviction refused.
The Criminal Appeal Court refused the appeal after ruling that where there is a single positive identification “very little else is required by way of corroboration”.
The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, sitting with Lady Paton and Lord Bracadale, heard that the appellant Brian Laing was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment after being convicted at Paisley Sheriff Court of three charges relating to events occurring at an address in the town, which included a contravention of section 38(1) of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 by “striking at the front door of the flat with a machete, kicking the door and breaking a bedroom window”.
The evidence was that the householder was at home in his flat at Woodside Crescent on the day in question along with several others who spoke to the events libelled in the charge, but none of them made a positive identification of the assailant.
They all testified, broadly, that the perpetrator was male, in his 20s, tall, slim and spoke with a Scottish accent.
The police were called to the scene and an officer found a trail of blood spots leading along the common passageway to the address.
Broken glass was found outside the bedroom window and a piece that appeared to have blood on it was removed for analysis.
A forensic scientist spoke to the content of her report which demonstrated that the blood matched the DNA profile of the appellant to a degree of probability that the likelihood of the blood coming from a male unrelated to the appellant was “one in one billion”.
But neither the evidence of the police officer removing the blood stained glass nor that of the forensic scientist was directly corroborated.
When the appellant was detained and interviewed two days after the incident he had three recent lacerations to his fingers which he told officers were the result of being “struck by a bottle”.
He also stated that he did not know anyone at Woodside Crescent and had not been there for about two years, although he did know the householder.
The police interviewing the appellant explained that the descriptions given by the various occupants coincided with their own description of the appellant’s appearance two days later.
The sheriff repelled a no case to answer submission on the basis that the several circumstances taken together “supported the inference” that the appellant was the perpetrator.
But on appeal the appellant argued that there was insufficient proof of his involvement.
While it was accepted that where there was a single positive identification very little else would be required, the blood had been found outside the flat and there was “no evidence” about when the blood had been deposited on the glass.
Although the appellant did appear to have an injury, that was two days later and it was submitted that all that the blood might establish was that the appellant had been in the common close “at some point”.
The advocate depute submitted that, when viewed as a whole, the accumulation of circumstances entitled the jury to draw the inference that the appellant was guilty.
Refusing the appeal, the court ruled that there was a “sufficiency to enable the jury to draw the conclusion that the appellant was the perpetrator of the offences”.
Lord Carloway observed that where there is a positive but single strand of evidence which identifies an accused as the perpetrator of the offence libelled, “very little else is required by way of corroboration” to provide a sufficiency which would prove the accused’s involvement, as had been said previously in Ralston v HM Advocate 1987 SCCR 467 and Nelson v HM Advocate 1988 SCCR 536.
Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice General said: “The single strand of evidence in this case came from the blood recovered from the broken pane of the window. That permitted the inference that it had been the appellant who had been present at the scene at the time that window had been broken and was therefore the perpetrator of the crime.
“By way of corroboration, there was evidence of the appellant’s recent injuries to his hands and the, albeit general, coincidences in general appearance between the appellant and the descriptions of the perpetrator by the eyewitnesses. There was also the fact that the householder was known to the appellant.”