HMA v JOSEPH TOWNSLEY

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lady Wise sentenced Joseph Townsley to 7 years imprisonment after he was found guilty of the culpable homicide of Frank Baxter on 8th of May 2012 at Crindledyke Crescent, Newmains, Wishaw.

On sentencing Lady Wise made the following statement in court:

“Joseph Townsley, you have been convicted by the jury of assault, culpable homicide and of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.  You have caused the death of Frank Baxter, the son of your own nephew.  Frank Baxter was married to another relative of yours and the couple had three very young children. They were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary on the night of his death. Your actions have exacerbated an already tense situation within your extended family. Whatever your motivation that night in going to the estate where your nephew Matthew Baxter and his family lived, the outcome of your actions has been devastating for many people.  You have left Frank Baxter’s wife widowed, his children without a father, his parents without their much loved son and his extended family bereft of their relationship with him.  Nothing can be said today that will alleviate in any way the immeasurable loss that the immediate family of Frank Baxter has suffered. Of course, the loss is in a sense your loss also, as Mr Baxter was part of your extended family. That simply serves to enhance the considerable grief that this case has caused.

The background to Frank Baxter’s death and to Alexander Minto being injured started with a feud developing between two branches of your large extended family. It was not disputed in evidence that there had been previous incidents involving the younger members of that family.  The deceased Frank Baxter had himself been involved in a fight in which he had fractured the jaw of your nephew Charlie Townsley Junior.

On 8 May 2012, when you heard that your daughter Natalie and your niece had been attacked by members of the Baxter family, you chose to go to the estate where they lived, driving your Iveco lorry there. You were closely followed by other members of the Townsley family. While it was not disputed that Frank Baxter and Alex Minto took a golf club and a pick axe handle outside with them when they saw your vehicle enter the street, there was also clear evidence that your lorry crashed through the gates into Matthew Baxter’s garden and was seen to drive at the wall of his house without braking. Frank Baxter was in the garden and close to the property. He was fatally injured when the back of his head hit the corner of the building with force when he must have jumped backwards on seeing your lorry coming straight towards him. Alex Minto was struck and injured in the same incident although made a good recovery. Frank Baxter died within minutes.   

Your defence of accident was rejected by the jury. You did not report any incident and you abandoned your lorry in a nearby street, taking off in the car driven by one of the relatives who had followed you to the street where Frank Baxter was killed.

You have only two previous criminal convictions. These are not recent, are relatively minor Road Traffic Act offences and there is no suggestion that you have ever been a man of violence.  

Having heard the evidence and in light of Mr Jackson’s plea I take into account that you have for all of your adult life been a hard working individual with your own business who has been a force for good within the travelling community of which you are part. It appears that your actions on 8 May last year were not in keeping with the responsible character you normally displayed.  I take into account all that is said in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report and by counsel on your behalf. In particular, I accept that you have suffered loss through this death yourself and that you have to some extent accepted responsibility for your actions, albeit that you continue to maintain that you had no intention to cause physical harm to others that evening. It has to be acknowledged that various younger family members behaved in an unacceptable and violent manner that evening, but for which this terrible outcome would never have resulted. However, it must also be accepted that but for your actions in driving your vehicle towards these two men in the manner you did, Frank Baxter would still be alive and Alex Minto would not have been injured. You could have chosen to respond differently to the news that your daughter had been attacked. Instead you acted in a reckless manner, driving your vehicle through the gates of your nephew’s property and into the garden where the two men were standing all without braking or taking avoiding action. You failed completely to consider the consequences of your actions.

Having taken into account all of the relevant features of this most distressing case, I consider that a substantial period of imprisonment is the appropriate sentence.

Joseph Townsley I sentence you to a period of 7 years imprisonment in respect of charge 2. On charge 3, I sentence you to six months imprisonment, to run concurrently with the sentence on charge 2.

The sentences of imprisonment that I have just imposed will be backdated to 21 August 2013”