HMA v William Burns

At the High Court in Aberdeen today, 25 July 2017, Lord Matthews imposed an extended sentence of 15 years on William Burns after the accused was found guilty of assaulting journalist Russell Findlay to his severe injury and to the danger of his life. The custodial element will be ten years imprisonment and will be followed by an extension period of five years on licence.

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

“William Burns, you have been convicted of a vicious, premeditated attack by the throwing of sulphuric acid into the face of a journalist on the threshold of his own home two days before Christmas.

“I need not go into the evidence in the case in any detail. It was overwhelming.

“You were caught virtually red-handed and your own evidence was an obvious fabrication from start to finish, plainly being made up as you were going along.

“Leaving aside your own explanation why you were there, the only reason I can discern for your actions is that you objected to something that your victim wrote.

“There are ways and means of dealing with grievances, real or imagined, against the media and this was plainly not one of them.

“The freedom of the press is an essential tool in the armoury of any democracy and attacks of this nature will not be tolerated.

“The jury found that this attack was to Mr Findlay’s severe injury and to the danger of his life. I accept that the danger to his life was potential rather than real.

“Nonetheless, you went to his house in the morning, disguised as a postman, and threw acid at him with the plain intention of causing him severe damage. The evidence showed that you were also armed with a knife but thankfully you did not get the chance to use it.

“To some extent you bit off more than you could chew. Mr Findlay did not take your attack lying down.

“He was able to overpower you and with the prompt assistance of neighbours you were detained there and then. Due to the intervention of those neighbours, Mr Findlay’s injuries were not as bad as they might have been.

“It is or should be well known that acid has the potential to cause catastrophic damage and it is no thanks to you that that was not the case here.

“I have listened to all that has been said on your behalf and considered the terms of the criminal justice social work report. You have a bad record and are clearly a dangerous man.

“Given your recall to prison the day after the commission of this offence, I do not intend to make any order in terms of section 16 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, but I am satisfied that a normal licence will be insufficient to protect the public from serious harm from you on your release from the sentence which I am going to impose.

“That sentence will be in two parts and will run from 30 July 2016. The first part, the custodial element, will be ten years imprisonment. The second part, or extension period, will be five years.

“During that period you will be subject to a licence, the conditions of which will be set by the Scottish Ministers and any breach of it may see you returned to prison to see out the full terms of the sentence.”