HMA v JOHN STEPHEN WATT

On 8 July 2014 at the High Court in Edinburgh, Lady Wolffe sentenced John Stephen Watt to four years imprisonment after he pled guilty to domestic abuse charges.

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

“John Stephen Watt, you have pled guilty to seven charges of assault, including three assaults to severe injury. The Crown narrative relating to these seven charges discloses a similar pattern of domestic abuse of six of your partners extending overall for a period of some 14 years, albeit with a gap in offending between 2004 and 2008. 

The Crown narrative reveals you to become, within several months of a new relationship, controlling and violent. You often subjected your domestic partners to attacks involving slapping to the head, and punching and kicking to the body and legs. On occasions you threw items at your partners and on one occasion brandished a knife. Two of your partners sustained broken ribs. More terrifying for your victims were those attacks where you grabbed your partner around the throat and where she believed she would lose consciousness or be killed. On occasions you took or destroyed your partner’s mobile phones in order to minimise their contact with friends and family, and so as to increase your dominance and control over their lives. 

I have read impact statements prepared by four of the women concerned. The physical attacks and injuries inflicted are nothing as compared with the lasting mental or psychological impact on some of your former partners. They have been damaged emotionally and several expressed their difficulty in ever trusting any one again in a relationship. Several of your victims suffered panic attacks and depression, and one has considered suicide. In respect of one of your former partners, who was then expecting your child, she could not bear the thought that she might never be free of you if you had a child together. And so, sadly, she terminated that pregnancy rather than face the prospect of continued contact with you in respect of a child of your relationship with her. 

I have taken into account what has been said on your behalf by your counsel. I have also taken into account what has been said by your current partner, who is also one of the complainers to the charges to which you pled guilty. I am given to understand that you genuinely wish to change this form of behaviour and that you have the full support of your current  partner, who wishes to maintain a family with you and your son, and other children. Through your Counsel, you have expressed remorse and regret. 

And I have also had regard to the Criminal Justice Social Work Report now available to me. I note that a risk assessment model included in the report assesses you as presenting with a profile which suggests a high risk of potential to cause serious harm to your partners. I have taken into account what has been said by your counsel in respect of your desire to change and do so when considering those parts of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report with which your counsel took issue. 

I have also had regard to your record, which includes five previous convictions for assault and two of which were aggravated by severe injury (and on one those) permanent disfigurement to your victim. I do note, however, that none of those was aggravated by being assaults in a domestic context. 

The crimes of to which you pled guilty are serious ones, though much less serious than the ones you were due to face at trial. A home should be a place of safety and refuge; not a place of fear and abuse. In an intimate domestic setting, domestic partners are deserving of respect from their partners and of protection if they are subjected to violence. Domestic abuse is not acceptable in a modern society, and it is the responsibility of the Court to reflect that understanding.   

I am satisfied that in your case, there is no appropriate alternative disposal to one of imprisonment. Indeed, your counsel invited a custodial sentence with an extended sentence as part of that disposal. 

I have considered whether to impose separate or cumulative sentences. I have decided to impose a cumulative sentence in respect of all of the charges. Had I chosen to impose separate sentences on each charge, the overall period of imprisonment might well have been significantly longer. 

In the light of the foregoing, the sentence I impose is one of four years and nine months (or 57 months). Having regard to the timing of your plea which, although late, did spare your former partners from the stress of having to give evidence in the High Court, I will reduce that by nine months, to a term of four years. I also impose an extended sentence of two years. I hope that you will make use of the period of imprisonment and while under supervision after release, to reflect on your past conduct and its impact, and to make good your intention to change for the better. 

The sentence will be backdated to 18 September 2013.”