HMA v Christopher Graham

At the High Court in Edinburgh on 18 March 2016, Lady Wolffe sentenced Christopher Graham to seven years imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to wilful fire-raising to the danger to life.

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

“Christopher Graham, you have pled guilty at the trial diet to a charge of wilful fire-raising to the danger to life. You were on bail at the time you committed this offence.

You have accepted that on Sunday 5 April 2015, just before 5pm you, together with a number of other unknown persons went into the stair of a residential block of flats. 

You climbed to the top floor. The only means in and out of these flats was via the common stair. 

An accelerant was poured through the letterbox and set alight.

It was only by the quick actions of the occupant that the fire was extinguished without causing actual harm to others or loss of life. A family occupied the flat immediately below this flat and included two children. 

In relation to your previous convictions, these span some 15 years. In the main, these are for crimes of dishonesty in order, it was said, to fuel a drugs habit. There are also breaches of bail and a recent conviction involving the misuse of drugs. 

None of your previous offending 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.   

You have served two periods of imprisonment of relatively short duration. I have had the benefit of two criminal justice social work reports. 

The first one assessed you as posing a high risk of re-offending. It was noted in that first report that the crime to which you have pled guilty is an escalation of your usual type of offending. It also noted that your high degree of substance abuse contributed to the risk you posed. It identified the need for you to address your substance abuse in order to lower your risk of re-offending. 

The second report confirms the first, and identifies an extended sentence as a possible means to manage the risk you pose. I note the personal circumstances narrated in those reports. 

I have also had regard to all that has been said on your behalf in mitigation. This was not much. You did not express remorse through your counsel. The crime you have admitted is of a different character from, and is an escalation of, your previous offending. 

It was accepted that an extended sentence was a possible disposal, but it was suggested that you would benefit from a longer period in custody and with access to programmes in that setting to help you address you substance addictions. 

It is only by good fortune that no one died as a direct consequences of your actions. Your set fire, with an accelerant, to the only means of escape of any person within the building. You did this at a weekend and at a time of day when it was likely that occupants would be in the building. 

It was an inexplicable, despicable and dangerous act. You are unable to explain why you did what you did. Your abuse of substances and alcohol is identified as a contributing factor.  

Having considered the nature of the crime, your personal circumstances, your past record and all that has been said on your behalf, I am satisfied that there is no alternative to a custodial sentence. I am also satisfied that this crime merits a substantial custodial sentence. 

I note that the crime was committed while you were on bail. I also note that some discount for the early plea is appropriate. 

In the whole circumstances, the sentence of imprisonment I impose for this act of wilful fire raising to the danger of life is seven years. 

The amount of your custodial sentence I have attributed to the bail aggravation is six months. But for the early plea, the sentence I would have imposed, taking into account the bail aggravation, would have been seven years and six months. 

This will be backdated to the date when your custody in respect of this matter commenced, being 7 April 2015.”

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