HMA v ALEXANDER GAY

At the High Court in Edinburgh on 25 November 2014, Lady Wolffe sentenced Alexander Gay to 12 years imprisonment after he was found guilty of the attempted murder of six people by wilful fire-raising.

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

“Alexander Gay, you have been convicted by the jury after trial of the attempted murder of six individuals in the early hours of 1st January of this year.

You had been at a party at a first floor flat in the early hours of that day.  The flat was one of several in a converted dwelling house in a small village.

The party was attended by friends and neighbours of the occupier of that property. Most of the people at the party were known to you.

At some point in the evening your dog was unruly and you were asked to take the dog home, but you yourself were invited back. However, you took offence at this. There was a minor altercation as you left in relation to the cans of lager you had brought. The matter should have ended there.

You returned home with your dog. However, you then embarked on a course which led to dreadful consequences for many others that night. You took a can of petrol or other accelerant from your shed and returned to the dwelling house with the flat containing these friends and their neighbours. You set fire to the common stair immediately below this flat. This narrow stair was the only means of escape. The ferocity of the fire and smoke that rapidly ensued meant that the only avenue of escape was cut off. The common stair was wholly destroyed.

The fire and smoke also quickly engulfed the first floor. The five individuals who had remained in the first floor flat you had left not long before were now trapped. Out of dire necessity, four of those five individuals leapt from the windows. All suffered injury. These varied in their severity. Some of these were burns; a number suffered multiple fractures of their lower limbs. One of your victims broke both ankles and had numerous pins inserted. Another broke several bones in the lower legs. These individuals have lost significant mobility and will continue to live with the physical consequences and pain of the injuries they sustained that night.

Tragically, however, one of the individuals at the party was unable to escape out the window. He suffered burns to 30 per cent of his body area. He has undergone several skin grafts. He suffered damage to his optic nerve and is now blind, and will be for life. This individual spent more than six months in hospital, before he was transferred to as rehabilitation centre. He has little feeling in his arms and legs. He cannot stand or wash himself, and he now requires full-time care. It is unlikely he will return to the employment he had prior to the fire, or indeed to any employment.

The host of the party lost his home that night and all of his possessions within it. Others lost personal items. Several of your victims continue to be effected by their experiences, which must have been terrifying; and they are suffering stress, panic attacks or fearfulness and interrupted sleep. All of this arose directly from the foolish and despicable actions you took that night.

The other flat on the first floor was occupied by an elderly gentleman. While he escaped from the fire with relatively minor injuries he died in hospital some eight days later from the consequences of a heart attack. The medical evidence did not establish a causal link between his death and the fire. But it remains the case that his life was also put at risk by your own actions.

You have been found guilty, by unanimous verdict of the jury, of the attempted murder of all six of these individuals.

In relation to your previous convictions, these span some 12 years. Although one involves an assault, none of these brought you to the High Court, where you now stand. It is only by sheer good fortune that no one was killed as a consequence of your actions. The impact of your actions, however, has blighted the lives of these other six individuals, to a greater or lesser degree; and in respect of one of your victims, catastrophically so.

I have had regard to the Criminal Justice Social Work Report. It assesses you as a high risk of reoffending. You otherwise appear to have little recollection of your actions that night. You appear to have little insight into the consequences of what you have done and its devastating impact on others. You expressed no remorse to the author of that report. I have also had regard to the psychiatric report provided to me.

I have also had regard to all that has been said on your behalf in mitigation. I note the circumstances of mental ill health and the social isolation. In the light of your previous conviction, it is suggested that an extended sentence would be inappropriate. I agree with that. I note, however, that you have expressed no remorse through your counsel.

It is only by good fortune that no one died as a direct consequences of your actions. You set fire, with an accelerant, to the only means of escape of people known to you and who had offered you hospitality. You attempted to murder these individuals in a place where they had gathered together to see in the New Year and where they expected to be safe. But you attempted to murder these individuals by wilful fire-raising. What you did on that night was premeditated, cowardly and despicable.

Having regard to all of these matters, the sentence of imprisonment I impose for the attempted murder of these six individuals is 12 years.

This will be backdated to the date when your custody in respect of this matter commenced, being 6th January 2014.”