HMA v Mark Munro and James Robertson

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 23 August 2017, Lady Carmichael sentenced both Mark Munro and James Robertson to eight years’ imprisonment after the two accused were found guilty of the culpable homicide of Russell Robertson.

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

“On 29 May 2016 you subjected Russell Robertson to significant and unlawful acts of violence in restraining him, seizing him by the body, throwing him to the ground, and pushing him over bridge railings at the Bainsford Bridge, causing him to fall into the canal at Falkirk. 

“Rather than simply falling into the water there, he struck his head on the metal retaining wall of the canal, sustaining a rotational head injury from which he would never have recovered, and entered the water. 

“The jury found both of you guilty of culpable homicide after trial on an indictment alleging murder. It had also alleged additional acts of violence causing the fall into the canal, which the jury did not find established.

“Russell Robertson may have been the instigator of the interaction between you by making a remark. A scuffle ensued between him and you, James Robertson.

“You, Mark Munro, then became involved. The terms of the jury’s verdict indicate that the jury accepted that you, Mark Munro, were not involved in the initial stage of the incident.

“Nothing that Russell Robertson did, even on James Robertson’s account, could possibly have given either of you any cause to react in the way that the jury found that you did. No-one may ever know why you pushed him over the railings. 

“At trial you, Mark Munro, maintained that you had been trying to assist him while James Robertson tried to push him over, and you, James Robertson, maintained you had had no involvement in pushing him over the railings. 

“The whole incident was over within less than a minute. You had both been drinking for some hours before the incident, and it may be that alcohol impaired your judgement, but that provides no mitigation or excuse of any kind.

“The crime of culpable homicide encompasses a variety of situations from those involving very little violence, and very little culpability, to those which are not far short of murder.

“The sentences imposed vary according to the precise circumstances of the offence. I do not regard the crime of which the jury found you guilty as falling at either end of that spectrum.

“The jury by its verdict rejected the Crown case that your actions were wickedly reckless. On the other hand what you both did in pushing Russell Robertson over the railing was a deliberate, unlawful act. 

“There were two of you against one of him. You acted together. Your action caused his death.

“It is an act that demonstrates a considerable degree of recklessness. It is different from, and in my view more serious than, for example, a single blow which proves to have tragically unexpected consequences.

“You both participated in an act, the consequences of which were unpredictable and which undoubtedly carried some degree of risk. 

“I take into account that the offence was not one which involved any planning. It occurred very suddenly, and very quickly. No weapons were involved.

“Both of you have essentially lived useful, hardworking and productive lives until now. Your conduct will continue to have consequences for your own partners and children.

“There is nothing of any real note in either of your histories to indicate that you were likely to cause the death of another person. There is nothing to suggest that you will cause harm in the future. I take those matters into account in your favour.

“You each demonstrate empathy, in that you have expressed understanding of the consequences for Russell Robertson’s family of the incident that night.

“Russell Robertson will be missed forever by his family. I have a victim impact statement which sets out very clearly the relentless, daily grief caused by his death. No sentence can turn back the clock or undo the harm that you caused on 29 May last year.

“Having regard to the nature of the incident and the appalling consequence in the loss of Russell Robertson’s life, a substantial custodial sentence is required.  

“I see no basis for distinguishing between you as to sentence. Although the jury convicted you, James Robertson, of assaulting Russell Robertson in the first stage of the altercation, and did not convict you, Mark Munro, of that conduct, it is not a matter that has any material bearing on sentence.

“I sentence each of you to eight years’ imprisonment, backdated to 20 July 2017.”