HMA v JOHN ANDREW DOBBIE

On 15 July 2014 at the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Armstrong sentenced John Dobbie to 15 years imprisonment for the attempted murder of a baby boy.

On sentencing, Lord Armstrong made the following statement in court:  

“John Andrew Dobbie, you have been convicted of the attempted murder of a 15 week old infant by repeatedly shaking him and by striking his head against a surface, all to his severe injury, permanent impairment and to the danger of his life.

This crime of which you have been convicted is marked by its sheer brutality and by its devastating and catastrophic consequences for your victim who was defenceless and, at the relevant time, totally dependent on you.

Following the baby’s emergency admission to hospital, radiological assessment confirmed that he had sustained a massive fracture of his skull, extending around the whole of one side of his head, from front to back. In addition, intracranially, there were extensive acute subdural collections of blood, and severe hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy. The classic sign of extensive retinal haemorrhaging, referable to extreme and violent shaking, was also present.

The baby was very severely brain damaged. At your trial, expert evidence, on two separate bases, was led to the effect that these injuries could only have occurred while the infant was in your care.

I have taken account of what has been said on your behalf, and I have also had regard to the content of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report now made available to me and to the psychiatric report prepared on your behalf.  I note that although you have two previous convictions on your record, neither is in relation to a crime of violence.

I have already directed that details of your conviction be intimated to the Scottish Ministers in terms of the Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2009.

In considering the appropriate level of disposal in your case, I have had regard to several aggravating factors. Firstly, given the position of responsibility which you held towards this baby, it is difficult to see how your actions, short of actually murdering him, could have constituted a greater breach of trust. Secondly, and separately, your victim, a 15 week old baby, was, of course, extremely vulnerable, at the relevant time completely dependent upon you and, indeed, defenceless. Thirdly, the force deployed by you was extreme. At your trial two respected expert witnesses gave consistent evidence in that regard. Their clear evidence was that there was no explanation for the skull fracture and brain injuries sustained, other than deliberate and violent force. The force necessary to cause the fracture to the skull was the equivalent of that involved in throwing a baby from a fast-moving vehicle or dropping a baby from an upper floor window. In relation to the brain injury sustained by shaking, there was evidence that the recognised definition, by the American Academy of Paediatrics, of the necessary causative force is in the following terms:

‘Shaking so violently that individuals observing it would recognise it as dangerous and likely to kill the child. It would be obvious to the perpetrator that the baby was severely distressed and in danger.’

Fourthly, the level of injury caused by the assaults was extreme. The loss of white/grey brain matter differentiation was so severe that this child now sufferers from cerebral palsy, is incapable of independent movement, requires to be fed by gastrostomy tube, is blind, and is  not capable of developing speech using language. These conditions are permanent and will subsist for his whole life. He will be dependent on full-time care for the rest of his life.

The clear evidence was that, but for the emergency medical attention which he received on the evening of your attack, the baby, undoubtedly, and very quickly, would have died.

A crime of this type could not be more repugnant to a civilised society and it is the responsibility of the court to reflect that. It is important that those who might be disposed to commit violent crimes of this sort against the youngest and most vulnerable of children, in the way that you did, understand that they are likely to receive significant custodial penalties once brought to justice. I am satisfied that, in your case, there is no appropriate alternative disposal to one of imprisonment. In the context of crimes of this nature, the criminality involved in your case is of the highest order.

The sentence which I am about to impose will be backdated to 18 June 2014 when you were first detained in custody in relation to this charge of which you have been convicted.

Having regard to all of these circumstances, the sentence of imprisonment which I now impose on you is one of 15 years.”