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HMA v William Marshall

At the High Court in Glasgow today, 24 November 2016, Lady Rae sentenced William Marshall four years’ imprisonment to after the accused pled guilty to the culpable homicide of Jennifer Edwards.

On sentencing, Lady Rae made the following statement in court:

“William Marshall, you have pleaded guilty to the culpable homicide of a lady with whom you were in a relationship for some years. 

It is apparent from the information before me, all as contained in the agreed narrative, that the relationship you had with the deceased was a turbulent one which led to numerous attendances by the police in response to reports of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. You have previously admitted assaulting the deceased and you have a further conviction for assaulting her to her injury in April 2014. 

You were originally charged with murder and three further charges but the Crown has now accepted a plea to culpable homicide in charge 2 and not guilty to all of the other charges. 

I note however that some of the information provided in the agreed narrative would seem to relate to those other charges, despite being no longer before me. I am not entirely clear therefore what I am being asked to make of this information. 

The narrative is not in the clearest of terms and has led to me having to ask a number of questions for clarification. 

In my view, in a case of a plea of guilty, if agreed narratives are presented to the Court, they ought to reflect the full factual position in relation to the commission of a crime, at least as far as can be ascertained. 

The narrative in the present case, unlike any previous narrative I have seen in such a case, does not detail the injuries listed at the post mortem nor does it identify those injuries relevant to the libel or relevant to the position now adopted by you.  

It does not set out the following: how it is thought any assault took place; how any of the injuries inflicted were caused or how the Crown submit you were responsible for any of the injuries which may have led to or contributed to death. 

I appreciate that that conclusion may have to be reached inferentially, however it is not for the sentencing judge to attempt to guess what happened from incomplete information. If a conclusion ought to be reached inferentially that ought to be set out in the agreed narrative. 

I note too that, although there is mention of a history of domestic violence it is not clear whether it was you who was responsible for all or only part of that violence. 

These criticisms apply equally to both parties to any agreement because in all such cases an accused is part of that agreement. 

While there may be additional mitigation to be offered by an accused in relation to his personal circumstances, that additional information ought not to be in relation to the circumstances of the offence, because any material facts relevant to the commission of the offence ought to feature in the agreed narrative, otherwise there is no agreement of the circumstances of the offence. 

It is particularly difficult for a sentencing judge if, after agreeing a narrative, an accused offers mitigation which might be interpreted as contradictory to the agreement. 

In the present case, your explanation which was offered in mitigation on the occasion of your plea on 27 October was that you thought the deceased was going to hit you and, although you could have moved out of the way, you decided to push her whereby she fell back and banged her head in some way. Your explanation to the social worker who prepared the background report is that you simply pushed the deceased out of the way but afterwards, as you left, she was still shouting at you.  

I note that the date you provide for that occurrence is wholly inconsistent with the probable timing of death. Crucially therefore, you appear to have disagreed with the assessment of the timing of death which is part of the agreement.   

]In addition, again despite your agreement in the narrative, you do not accept that there was indeed any history of abusive conduct on your part. You do not accept that you have any issues with alcohol. Today I am advised that you do accept you are an alcoholic. 

In my view, neither of your explanations as to how you assaulted the deceased is consistent with the terms of the libel to which you pleaded guilty and which alleges that you did ‘inflict blunt force trauma to her head and body by means unknown to the prosecutor’. I was informed that the defence solicitor advocate had advised the advocate depute of your position and, with this knowledge, the plea was accepted by the Crown in the terms of the libel in charge 2, as adjusted. 

It would seem that, previously, neither party read the charge in the way that I have interpreted it, despite the fact that the language is plain and the meaning obvious. 

Parties are agreed, despite the terms of the narrative, that I ought now to deal with this case on the basis of your assertion of simply pushing the deceased as a result of which she fell back and struck her head, and as a result of which she died. 

That being the case  and standing the approach of the Crown I am of the view that my hands are tied when it comes to sentence and the sentence will be less than any sentence I would otherwise have imposed to reflect the terms of the current libel. 

Having said all of that, this is still a very serious offence. You assaulted the deceased and then left her. As a result of your actions she tragically died. 

From the narrative you appear to have dragged her from one room to another and whether she was dead or alive at the time it is not known. You have gone on to remove money from her account so that you could continue drinking. You lied to police officers about your movements during the relevant period. 

While I cannot deal with you for these matters it does show a very callous attitude to the deceased and would put into question any expressions of remorse which you might have for what you have done. From the victim impact statements you have devastated a family. 

Because of your plea I require, by law, to allow you a discount on the sentence I would otherwise have imposed, to take account of the fact that you have tendered a plea before any trial. You pleaded at a discharged preliminary hearing accordingly I am prepared to discount that by 20%. 

I will have regard to your personal circumstances and all of what has been said by your solicitor advocate. 

Having regard to the serious nature of the charge, together with you record of previous convictions, the sentence I would have imposed on charge 2 but for the discount would have been five years. I shall discount the sentence by 20% thus the sentence is four years imprisonment backdated. 

I am prepared to backdate the sentence to 27 October 2016.”