World’s End murderer Angus Sinclair fails in appeal against ‘excessive’ sentence

The man found guilty of the “World’s End” murders has had his appeal against sentence refused.

Angus Sinclair, who was convicted in 2014 of raping and murdering teenagers Helen Scott and Christine Eadie in 1977, argued that the punishment part of 37 years – the “longest in Scotland to date” – was “excessive”.

However, the Criminal Appeal Court ruled that the sentencing judge was “entitled” to impose a punishment part “at the very top of the range”.

Lady Paton, Lady Clark of Calton and Lord Malcolm heard that the appellant was convicted on 14 November 2014 after trial at Livingston High Court and sentenced by Lord Matthews to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 37 years.

The court was told that in 2007 the appellant was tried and acquitted for the World’s End murders after the court sustained a “no case to answer” submission.

But following the introduction of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011, the Crown applied and was granted authority by the High Court to bring a fresh prosecution against him, based on advances in DNA techniques.

After a five-week trial the appellant, then a serving life prisoner who had appeared from custody each day, was convicted unanimously of the murders.

The Lord Advocate then moved for sentence and in the course of his address he advised the court of the appellant’s history, which included a culpable homicide conviction at the age of 16 of a seven-year-old girl, a conviction of rape and lewd practices in 1982, and a conviction of the murder of 17-year-old Mary Gallagher in 2001.

In his report to the appeal court, the sentencing judge explained that in selecting a punishment part of 37 years, he “had regard to the nature of these offences and the appellant’s dreadful criminal record”, which included convictions which post-dated the offences, in terms of section 101A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.

Lord Matthews stated: “I concluded that a punishment part of a period of years in the high 30s was appropriate. I could have chosen a longer period than 37 years but it did seem to me that coincidentally there was an element of real justice in the period I selected which reflected the length of time the families had had to live with the consequences of these dreadful crimes. There was in my opinion no comparable case.”

But the appellant argued that the “principal basis” for the selection of the punishment part was the “length of time between the date of the murders and the conviction of the accused”.

Counsel for the appellant submitted the passage of time prior to conviction “should not have been a relevant factor” in determining the length of the punishment part in circumstances where the accused was not actively evading arrest and had previously been tried and acquitted for the current offences.

It was argued that the trial judge failed to take sufficient account of “comparable sentences” and failed to take “sufficient account” of what period a judge might have recommended be served had the appellant been convicted in 1977.

While the case concerned the “brutal and merciless murders” of two young girls, the question was whether 37 years was “necessary, appropriate, and fell within the judge’s discretion”.

Having regard to the appellant’s criminal record, in terms of section 101 and 101A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) 1995 Act, the punishment part of 37 years was “excessive”, it was submitted.

Refusing the appeal, the judges noted that the appellant was found guilty of “appalling crimes” which demonstrated “an immeasurable capacity for evil, depravity, and sadism”.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lady Paton said: “We do not accept that the sentencing judge selected 37 years because that represented the length of time which had passed since the commission of the murders. As the sentencing judge explains, he had concluded at the outset that a punishment part ‘in the high 30s’ should be imposed.

“That was his assessment of the gravity of the case. As he puts it, it was only ‘coincidentally’ that the period selected mirrored the passage of time since the murders. In the result we are not persuaded that there is any merit in this argument.”

The judges accepted that comparisons with other cases may, in some circumstances, be of assistance, but added that “each case must be decided on its facts”.

“There is no mandatory upper or lower limit set by either statute or case-law,” Lady Paton said.

She continued: “It seems to us that an experienced sentencing judge who has presided over the trial, heard the witnesses, and seen the labels and productions, is in the best position to decide, in his discretion, the punishment part appropriate to the circumstances of the case. An appeal court should be slow to alter such an assessment, a fortiori as other punishment parts may have been imposed in different circumstances and in a different sentencing era.

“Against that background, it is our view that the present case, one of a sadistic double murder and rape of two young girls in the circumstances outlined in the judge’s report, was truly horrific. In addition, the previous conviction for culpable homicide of a young girl was a major aggravating factor.

“In all the circumstances, we consider that the sentencing judge was entitled, exercising his discretion in the context of retribution and deterrence, to select a punishment part at the very top of the range.”

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