HMA v DEBORAH LAIRD

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Woolman imposed an extended sentence of six years and six months on Deborah Laird after she pled guilty to the culpable homicide of George Ross on the 4 May 2010 in Glasgow.

On sentencing Lord Woolman made the following statement in court:

“You have pled guilty to the culpable homicide of George Ross. At the time of his death he was 50 years old lived and suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

The circumstances of the crime are distressingly familiar. They involve alcohol, loss of control and violence. On Monday 3 May 2010, you were drinking in a pub with three other persons. One of them was Mr Ross, whom you met for the first time that day. Afterwards, all four of you went to his flat. You were all drunk.

Mr Ross asked you to leave after you turned up the volume of the music in the flat. You refused and some form of altercation took place. He had a fibre glass cast on his right arm which he had broken about three weeks before. The cast inadvertently struck your nose, causing it to bleed. You went into the kitchen and picked up a knife. You then used it to repeatedly strike Mr Ross on the head and body.

Mr Ross was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He was found to have three wounds to his back, one to his forehead, and four to his upper arm and shoulder. They were all comparatively superficial and treated by sutures or glue. The injuries were all consistent with the use of a knife.

Mr Ross was kept in hospital overnight for observation and discharged the following day. Some 28 hours after his discharge, he was re-admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Shortly afterwards he went into respiratory arrest and died. Two expert reports have examined the circumstances. Both conclude that there was no negligence on the part of the hospital.
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Mr Ross died because bacteria entered his body through the stab wounds to his back. That led to the development of necrotizing fasciitis and the rapid onset of septicaemia. The cause of death was therefore directly linked to your attack.

I have taken into account the terms of the Social Enquiry Report and everything said on your behalf in mitigation. In particular, I note your troubled background and life history and –

a. that you have no previous convictions
b. that there was no element of premeditation in the crime
c. that you take full responsibility for your actions
d. that you have expressed genuine remorse
e. that you have mental health problems as set out in Ms Ross’ report

I must, however, have regard principally to the seriousness of the crime and its consequences. Although the precise manner of Mr Ross’ death was unexpected, anyone who uses a knife to repeatedly strike another human being can expect to cause harm. In this case, the knife itself was over 9 inches long. Its blade was about 5 inches long. You used it in a sustained and violent attack that resulted in a man losing his life.

I stress that intoxication is no excuse. You chose to drink the alcohol and remain responsible for your actions.

The author of the Social Enquiry Report has paid careful attention to the question of risk assessment. She assesses you as being at high risk of reconviction and of causing significant harm to others.

In the circumstances, in my view only a custodial sentence is appropriate. Having regard to the protection of the public, it is also my view that an extended sentence should be imposed. That means that there will be a period in which you will be on licence post-custody.

If you had been convicted after trial, I would have sentenced you to a period of 6 years in prison and 2 years as an extension period. That takes into account the 190 days you have already spent in custody in respect of this matter. Six months would have been attributable to the bail aggravation.

It is appropriate to apply a discount having regard to your plea of guilty. That reflects the public utility of avoiding the need for a trial and the distress that such proceedings might have caused. Having regard to the various investigations that required to be carried out, I am prepared to treat your plea of guilty as having been tendered at the first Preliminary Hearing.

I shall therefore apply a discount of one quarter. Accordingly, the sentence is one of 4 years 6 months imprisonment from today’s date. The extension period of 2 years will remain the same”.