I detest ‘trial by tabloid’ and ‘pitchfork justice’ which is inevitably ill-informed, illegitimate and ignorant of the law and the details of cases and/or incidents. I used to consider Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four a friend until his premature death from lung cancer in June 2014. He spoke up for me against my treatment by the press, media and judicial system. We shared several platforms in campaigns to highlight miscarriages of justice. Gerry was wrongly convicted of being an IRA bomber and served 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The Judge at his trial, Justice Donaldson, reflected the ‘pitchfork justice’ and ‘trial by tabloid’ mentality which dominated that case when he sentenced Gerry to life imprisonment in October 1975 but lamented not being able to pass the death sentence:
“If hanging were still an option, you would have been executed” https://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/guildford-fours-gerry-conlon–3779969.
I still consider Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six miscarriage of justice a friend and am proud to do so. He has been tireless in his campaigning for other victims of miscarriages of justice since his release in 1991. He spent sixteen and a half years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit and states categorically that prison killed him on the inside. The Judge at his trial also lamented not having the death penalty available but settled for life sentences and lavish praise for the investigating police officers despite the evidence of beatings, torture and threats to coerce Paddy and the others to confess to something they didn’t do. In August 1975 Mr Justice Bridge stated in Lancaster Crown Court:
“You stand convicted on each of 21 counts on the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard of the crime of murder. The sentence for that crime is not determined by me. It is determined by the law of England.
“Accordingly, in respect of each count, each of you is now sentenced to imprisonment for life” https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-six-member-paddy-hill-9809406.
Had the death penalty been available the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six and Maguire Seven would all have been wrongly hanged. Innocent individuals would have been executed to satisfy the baying mob fed for years on a diatribe of falsehoods, distortions and sensationalised claptrap. Trial by tabloid and ‘pitchfork justice’ would have been satisfied but 17 innocent men and women would have been murdered by the state for crimes they didn’t commit.
So the questions of crime, justice, punishments and the law are far from simple or straightforward. When heinous crimes are committed the desire for retribution and punishment is at fever pitch. Men and women charged with investigating crimes can be influenced to cut corners at best and pervert the course of justice at worst. Judges too can be conned or connive in shoddy trials that fail to submit evidence to the rigorous and extensive examination that it always requires for justice to be served.
Is the ‘bleeding heart’ bleating of a leftie socialist soft on crime and criminals? Not at all! It is a convenient myth perpetrated and promoted by the right wing press and political establishment that socialists are ‘soft’ on crime and care little for victims. Socialists care a lot for victims of crime because invariably the majority of crime victims are working class and come from working class communities. Questions of the law and punishment do not fit into convenient political pigeon holes. Often it is not a question of left or right but rather right and wrong.
In October 2004 a horrible beast, an animal, was convicted of the brutal and callous sexual assault and murder of an eight year old boy in Glasgow’s high rise flats on Charles Street in Royston. He led the boy to his flat, sexually assaulted him, strangled him, placed him in a black bin bag and then disposed of the body down a refuge chute in the block of flats. He was eventually caught and charged despite his efforts to cover up his crime. He confessed to the police and said of the strangling after the sexual assault:
“… the old me had come back… It was like I actually heard myself saying ‘you let the last one go, I am not letting this one go’. I continued until he was dead” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3752132.stm.
You see Stuart Leggate was a repeat offender. He had served only two years of a four year sentence for sexually assaulting other boys and girls between the ages of three and ten and was released in 1999 aged 23.
He had served 60 days for sexually assaulting a nine year old boy when he was 19. He had moved to Carnwarth in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1995 after committing that crime and began to search for other victims. Next door neighbours had a wee boy called Patrick. He was ten years of age. Leggate sexually assaulted him over a 12 month period and often assaulted wee girls in his presence. One such incident took place in a garden shed. Leggate took Patrick’s trousers down and abused him before making him watch while he abused a seven year old girl. Leggate stuck a shotgun under young Patrick’s chin and wielded an axe in front of him threatening to shoot him and chop him up if he told anyone about the abuse https://www.thefreelibrary.com/SEX+BEAST%27S+VICTIM+SPEAKS%3A+Sick+killer+told+cops+how+he+let+last…-a0123553384.
Eventually the parents of another girl, a three year old, suspected something was wrong and the bastard Leggate was found out. He got four years for abusing Patrick, ten, and two girls aged three and seven. He was released after only two years and placed on the Sex Offender Register. He was 28 when he led wee Mark Cummings to his horrible ordeal of sexual abuse and strangulation in Glasgow in 2004.
My contention is Stuart Leggate should either have been put to death by the state or locked up for life after the abuse he meted out to ten year old Patrick and the wee girls aged three and seven. Patrick has since tried to commit suicide 30 times such is the mental damage inflicted upon him by Leggate’s sustained abuse and he fears Leggate, when eventually released, will hunt him down and try and kill him https://www.thefreelibrary.com/SEX+BEAST%27S+VICTIM+SPEAKS%3A+Sick+killer+told+cops+how+he+let+last…-a0123553384.
So when it comes to clear and calculated child sexual abuse and murder I am no ‘bleeding heart’. Beasts like that should be removed from society for extremely long periods or, in certain considered circumstances, permanently. Every case has to be carefully analysed and subjected to thorough and rigorous examination with accused individuals entitled to proper defence teams. Being accused of a crime is not the same as being guilty of a crime. And as we know from the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases, among hundreds of others, confessions are not always reliable. But after what Stuart Leggate confessed to in 2004 do I believe he should be alive and preparing for eventual release aged around 50 and probably with another 20 or 30 years of life ahead of him? No is my answer.
Some crimes are so heinous and unforgivable that life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment or even, in the most extreme cases, state execution. I’m sorry if such a position does not meet with everyone’s approval but it is my personal opinion and I feel the need to express it now, this week, after reading about a case which has me boiling with anger.
The case is PF v Christopher Daniel and you can read about it here http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/2121/PF-v-Christopher-Daniel.
Late last year the accused admitted to, eventually, a sustained period of sexual assault against a wee girl. He was 15 when he started assaulting her by touching her vagina over her clothes while she sat on his knee to play with his computer. She was six years of age. The abuse continued for two years until she was eight and he was 17. We know so much about the case because the Sheriff who presided over the trial and found the teenager guilty took what the Procurator Fiscal Office in Scotland called “the wholly exceptional decision not to pass sentence and to grant an absolute discharge” http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/2121/PF-v-Christopher-Daniel.
Such was the outrage from the parents of the wee girl who was abused that the Procurator Fiscal, Scotland’s alleged Justice Department, was forced to take the unusual step of issuing the ‘Sentencing Statement’ I have quoted from.
I simply can’t believe this decision was made by a sane and rational individual. The Sheriff concerned is called Gerard Sinclair and I believe both he and this decision must be subjected to an urgent but thorough review instigated by Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf.
The fact the Procurator Fiscal’s Office has declined its right to appeal this decision is beyond belief and exposes it as unfit for purpose. The decision simply cannot be allowed to stand and the Sheriff should be suspended pending the investigation into his conduct and statement.
This Sheriff has not only placed the welfare of the convicted criminal before the welfare of his eight year old victim he has invented evidence to back up his warped decision. No wonder the wee girl’s mother is so angry. She was not even forewarned about the issuing of the Sentencing Statement but she soon highlighted the woeful inadequacies and inaccuracies it contained.
The Sentencing Statement said:
“As to the circumstances of the offence, the Sheriff considered that the actions, occurring on more than one occasion could not be classed as spontaneous. However, there had been no attempt to escalate the nature of the offending. In light of the evidence as to the immaturity of the accused, and the nature of the discussion during which he admitted his actions, the Sheriff considered the offence to be the result of an entirely inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification” http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/2121/PF-v-Christopher-Daniel.
The abuse was not ‘spontaneous’ and occurred over a two year period but was not for the purpose of ‘sexual gratification’. How the hell can the Sheriff reach that conclusion? That is what troubles me and the wee girl’s mum:
“I am absolutely gobsmacked by this. How can he possibly know this? It also seems to be at odds with the charge which was of sexual assault” https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435128-mum-s-anger-as-sex-attacker-sentencing-explained/.
So the individual, now 18 years old, was charged and found guilty of ‘sexual assault’ but it was apparently not about sexual gratification. The Sheriff then stated:
“It was fortunate that the complainer appeared to have suffered no injury or long lasting effects” http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/8/2121/PF-v-Christopher-Daniel.
What a crass, foolish and unfounded statement. Her mother said:
“He also says that my daughter appears not to have suffered any ‘long-lasting effects’. Again, how can he possibly know this? No-one has asked me at any point how my daughter is.” https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435128-mum-s-anger-as-sex-attacker-sentencing-explained/.
This is simply a woeful state of affairs. This Sheriff has literally invented an assertion about the wee girl’s state without consulting the mother of the wee girl. It is incredibly unprofessional to say the least and wholly insensitive as well.
The Sentencing Statement then goes on to suggest that the fact the perpetrator of this sexual assault on a wee girl is currently on a university course to train as a dentist means no punishment should be imposed as it would result in him being placed on the Sex Offenders Register and could impact on his course and his life. Really? So if the 15 year old, who embarked on a two year course of sexual abuse until he was 17, was not from a comfortable background and academically talented but instead not quite so clever and unemployed or working at MacDonalds he would have been punished and placed on the Sex Offenders Register? That is the only conclusion you can draw from this bungling Sheriff’s statement. It is class ridden to the hilt and stinks of privilege and connections in high places.
The family of the wee girl subjected to the sustained two year abuse have been incredibly gracious and restrained. They have stated clearly they don’t want to see the young man locked up but they do want him to be placed on the Sex Offenders Register for at least a 12 month period and subject to monitoring and professional counselling. I applaud their forgiving spirit. I’m afraid I would not be so sober or calm.
How the hell can this Sheriff know what damage has been inflicted on this wee girl mentally by what that teenager, double her age, subjected her to? The fact an individual is found guilty of sustained sexual assault on a minor over a two year period and the assault is not ‘spontaneous’, and therefore must be premeditated, but walks away from a guilty verdict without any punishment at all is quite simply outrageous.
I call on the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice to act quickly to restore some confidence in the judicial system in Scotland. He must order a full investigation into this twisted decision and the Sheriff who delivered it. I have set up a petition calling for that action and I would ask you to sign it and share it https://www.change.org/p/scottish-government-justice-minister-demand-scottish-government-reviews-decision-in-pf-v-christopher-daniel-case-3be3d260-2258-4b35-8b37-6bbc24db8d78?recruiter=21801671&utm_source=share_petition&utm_campaign=share_for_starters_page&utm_medium=whatsapp.
As Sandie Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland said in relation to this case and the Sheriff’s overarching concern for the convicted sexual abuser over the victim:
“It can be really frustrating for victims of sexual offences when the criminal justice system appears to place too much emphasis on what the impact will be on the offender” https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435128-mum-s-anger-as-sex-attacker-sentencing-explained/.