HMA V JOHN LEATHEM

At the High Court in Glasgow on 12 October, 2016, Lady Rae sentenced John Leathem to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 27 years after the accused pled guilty to the murder of a 15-year-old girl.

On sentencing, Lady Rae made the following statement in court.

"You have pleaded guilty to the murder of a fifteen year old, defenceless child and a second charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by trying to cover up your actions. The circumstances of the crime, all as described in the agreed narrative, disclose that this was a savage, and frenzied attack.  

You claim that, while in the course of preparing and serving the child with food, you and she had a general conversation about work, as a result of which you decided to take down her details in the back office with a view to the potential offer of a part time job. There, after discovering she was only 15 years of age, you told her that you could not employ her, as a result of which - you say - this child threatened to reveal that you had touched her inappropriately if you did not give her that job. At that stage, after you both stood up suddenly, the child started screaming and then, apparently recalling the consequences to your twin brother of his having been adjudged a sex offender, you immediately reacted by grabbing a knife lying on a shelf in the back office and proceeded to stab her repeatedly. If what you say is correct all of these events appear to have occurred within 10 minutes, between the child’s entry to your premises and your closing of the shutters, as seen on the CCTV footage I was shown at the pleading diet.

No evidence has been placed before me to support your assertion. It is not part of the agreed narrative. It is not accepted by the Crown. A proof in mitigation was offered to you but not accepted. However, having regard to your Counsel’s stance that, even if your assertions were true, your reaction to that alleged threat was in no way mitigatory of this appalling, wicked crime, I need not, nor can I, make any finding on this issue. Accordingly, in my view, no evidence of any motive has been put before me to explain the ferocity of this attack.

You must have struck the victim in excess of 146 times with a knife which, on your account, just happened to be handy in the back room of your shop. These were not just stab wounds but they included many slashing type injuries. This number of injuries excludes the separate, repeated blows which must have been delivered to inflict the large gaping wound on her neck which ultimately led to her bleeding to death.

Not satisfied with having brutally killed this child you then decided to attempt to cover up your actions. You claim that you panicked. That may well be the case but you were sufficiently clear in your mind to delay the arrival of a member of your staff, obtain cleaning materials and large bin bags in premises nearby, attempt to clean up your shop, wrap the child’s body in bins bags and, after retrieving your car from nearby, you placed the body in the boot and then, in my view rather coldly, carried on your business until the end of your shift. Thereafter, you appear to have left the child’s body locked in your garden shed while you took your wife and child out for the day. You also lied about having seen the deceased and that was in the full knowledge that family and friends were looking for her. Two days after the killing, you saw fit to dispose of the child’s body in waste ground situated off Great Western Road where she was subsequently found in the undergrowth. 
What you did was truly reprehensible. It is impossible to comprehend how an apparently happily married man with a young child and who is running a successful business is capable of such a horrific level of violence. Your mental state has been investigated and there is no suggestion, as far as I can determine, of any psychiatric or psychological explanation for what you did.

From the victim impact statements, you have left a family heartbroken and bereft. I cannot, in this short sentence statement, do justice to the sentiments expressed by the child’s family and have thus not attempted to summarise them, but it is clear they are all understandably devastated and their lives will never again be the same after what you did.                                                                          
I will have regard to your lack of previous convictions, your previous good character, your expressions of remorse and your early plea of guilty thus avoiding the necessity of a trial. Otherwise there is little mitigation which can be offered.

In respect of the murder charge, there is only one sentence which I can impose, and that is life imprisonment. I require to make an order setting what is called a punishment part, that is, the minimum period of time that you require to serve in prison to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence. Having regard to the very serious nature of what is contained in charge 2, I intend to take that into account when assessing an appropriate punishment part and consequently I shall increase the period which I would have imposed on charge 1. I am aware that that enhancement must reflect only the elements of retribution and deterrence.  In view of that increase I shall impose a concurrent sentence on charge two.

The effect of this will be that you will not be eligible for parole or release until the whole of the punishment part has expired. Thereafter it will be for the Parole Board and the Parole Board alone to consider whether you still present a risk to the public, or, whether you can be released on a life licence with appropriate conditions. If you are still considered a serious risk, after the punishment part has expired, you will not be released. 

I am also required to consider a discount in this case because of your plea thus avoiding a trial. The plea was tendered at a discharged preliminary hearing after the Indictment had been served. I am prepared to discount the punishment part by a period of 3 years.

I shall deal with charge 2 first. On that charge the sentence will be 6 years. To be clear that is not the level of the enhancement of the punishment part which I have assessed at three years to reflect only the elements of retribution and deterrence.

On charge one you will be sentenced to life imprisonment and in view the brutality and nature of this attack, together with the aggravating factors, all as disclosed in the narrative, including the circumstances of charge 2, the punishment part I would have imposed, but for the discount, is 30 years.  I am prepared to discount that by 3 years having regard to the point at which you pleaded guilty. The resultant punishment part is 27 years.

Those periods will run concurrently and will date from 26 March when you were first remanded in custody."