HMA v Fiona McArdle

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court today, 27 January 2017, Sheriff Frank Crowe sentenced Fiona McArdle to 18 months’ imprisonment after the accused was found guilty of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices towards two girls.

On sentencing, Sheriff Crowe made the following statement in court:

“Fiona McArdle, on 16 December 2016 you were convicted on indictment by a jury of 10 women and five men of two charges of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices and behaviour which occurred between 1978 and 1984 when you were between the ages of 12 and 17 and your victims were aged between about six and seven-and-a-half in the first charge and aged between about six and 12 in charge 2.

It is quite clear from the witnesses that the area in which you grew up was a happy place with a good community spirit in a new housing block which was close to a play park and the countryside. You were one of the older children living in the block and were asked to babysit the first victim on a regular basis; a girl who was nine years younger than you.

During these occasions you encouraged the child to play games based upon ‘Mummies and Daddies’ and referencing the ‘Dallas’ television series which was popular at that time. Using this pretext you performed various indecent acts upon the child and induced her to perform indecent acts upon you.

Your victim was too young to understand the significance of these acts and was fortunate that her parents moved to another area when she was a Primary 2 pupil and she did not see you again until the trial.

The other victim was six years younger than you and independently about the same time you took advantage of her when she was on her own with you and on various occasions over the next six years.

You committed indecent acts upon her and induced her to perform such acts upon you. Initially your victim was encouraged to become involved in what was presented as a game of what adults do and your victim continued to participate in the acts with increasing reluctance until the time she reached senior school.

Both women came to realise that what had occurred should never have happened and that they had been victims of conduct they struggled to comprehend. Both in their evidence and in victim impact statements which they have submitted described how these events have blighted their lives and caused long-standing psychological difficulties which made it difficult to form loving and trusting friendships and relationships.

As we heard in evidence it often takes victims a considerable time to come to terms with these matters and decide to report them to the authorities. We heard how the first victim made a complaint to the police about the offence in 2004, but due to circumstances in her life at that time would not provide details to take matters forward. She did however complain in 2009 but no progress was made until the second victim complained to police in 2014.

Unfortunately there were delays in the investigative process which were not fully explained and you were not interviewed for about another year. The court was told that police procedures have improved since then.

The offences occurred when you yourself were a child aged about 12 and above and in the interim you have not come to the attention of the courts, have had  your own children, and have been in regular employment, married and in a stable relationship.

You denied the charges in evidence and continue to deny involvement in these offences. The jury did not accept your evidence and were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the evidence from the two complainers. It is quite clear from the evidence before the court that complaints were made to police independently of one another and there was no suggestion of collusion on their part.

Had the offences been committed when you were an adult, proceedings may well have been taken in the High Court. While you could not foresee the effect these indecent acts had upon your victims it is clear that exposure to this conduct when they were very young has had a long lasting effect on both women who now consider your actions caused them problems in adolescence and have affected them in different ways at various times over the last three decades.

Background reports assess the risk of further offending as being low although this may be due to underlying statistics upon which these assessments are made, recording very few cases of this type. The report writers are unable to offer any convincing alternative sentences as you continue to deny the charges. A clue may be found in your disclosure to them that you had been bullied at school.

In any event the conduct was carried out by you on the victims on many occasions. The first victim spoke about incidents happening two to three times a week until she moved house and the second victim spoke about the abuse occurring for about six years on a regular basis.

The jury took time to consider their verdicts and acquitted you of a third charge where the evidence was less strong.

It is in my experience a very unusual case and fortunately there is guidance from the High Court identifying the correct principles to deploy in sentencing an adult for offences committed when a child. I am bound to take account of your age at the time of these offences, your relative immaturity then and that more than 32 years have elapsed since without any criminal conduct occurring.

You are a first offender, who has in the interim been a valued member of society, a mother and in regular employment since you left school. You indicate that you had a good upbringing and this was confirmed by the evidence given by your mother and sister.

While there are no public protection issues, the offences remain serious ones and represent a course of conduct which you carried out on a regular basis over a period of years against children who were significantly younger than yourself for your own gratification and to the detriment of the victims.

In my view only a prison sentence is appropriate here given the gravity and repetitive nature of the conduct and I will impose a cumulo sentence of imprisonment of 18 months to cover both offences. In addition you will be required to register under the sex offenders’ scheme for a period of 10 years.”