HMA v Ian McAllister Gordon

At the High Court in Edinburgh today (24 October 2017) Lord Arthurson sentenced Ian Gordon to three years and four months imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to the culpable homicide of his terminally ill wife Patricia. On sentencing Lord Arthurson made the following statement in court:

On 8 September 2017 at Glasgow High Court your plea of guilty to the crime of culpable homicide was accepted by Crown counsel, on the basis that you were acting under diminished responsibility when you killed your wife at your home on 28 April 2016.  That plea was accepted on the third day of your trial on an indictment which charged you with the murder of your wife.  It was a plea which had been offered on your behalf throughout the proceedings against you, and indeed by your senior counsel, the Dean of Faculty, before the unempanelled jurors on the first day of the trial.

I have considered in detail and with care the terms of the many supportive letters and character references tendered on your behalf prior to this sentencing hearing, and have studied with the same care the Criminal Justice Social Work Report which has been made available, the terms of which are also significantly in your favour and in which the author has invited the court to impose a community based disposal in your case, a course commended to the court this morning by the Dean of Faculty on your behalf. 

You are a 67 year old first offender, who has lived an exemplary life within your community in partnership with your lifelong companion, your wife, the deceased.  You continue to have the very real, united and affectionate support of your entire immediate and extended family and friends, including the brother of the deceased. These are all factors which are highly in your favour. You have also, I am aware, spent a week already in custody in respect of this matter, from 29 April to 6 May 2016.

Turning now to the offence for which I must sentence you this morning, namely the culpable homicide of your wife, you will well understand that in pleading guilty to this offence you have accepted that your own conduct was the immediate and direct cause of her death, and that, in terms of the plea which you tendered, you on 28 April 2016 assaulted your wife and placed a pillow over her face, restricted her breathing and killed her. In the hours immediately after doing this you told your daughter: “I know I’m going to go to jail I don’t know how long for but I don’t have a single regret.”  Perhaps in making that comment you had even then an insight into the likely outcome in a court of law of the course that you had chosen to take that night. One of your character referees, who is medically qualified and has known you for over 25 years, has described your conduct on the night of your wife’s death as a “final act of love”. That may very well be so, and indeed I do not doubt that you have no regret in respect of what you did. But, as you understood the position in speaking to your daughter in the hours following the offence, and perhaps as you understand matters even now, you have taken her life in a way that the Crown late in the day chose to accept was not a murderous attack, but was one reduced from the crime of murder to the still serious offence of culpable homicide, on the basis of diminished responsibility.

The task of sentencing in cases of culpable homicide is not straightforward, as there is a range of culpability to consider, depending of course on the particular circumstances of each case. In your own case I assess your culpability, in the whole circumstances before the court, as lying in the upper part of the lower half of that range, and certainly below the middle. Nevertheless, you, to use the term used by your daughter in her evidence before the jury, smothered your wife by placing a pillow over her face, restricted her breathing and killed her, and for that you must now face the consequences in this court.

 In these circumstances, I have determined that in the exercise of my public duty and in the public interest only a custodial sentence is appropriate in your case. Nevertheless, standing the powerful and indeed moving mitigatory factors which I have attempted to outline earlier in these remarks, I propose to restrict that sentence to one of three years and four months imprisonment, to run from today. That sentence is a heavily discounted one, to take into account the fact that the same plea has been tendered on your behalf from the very outset of these proceedings. But for that, the sentence would have been one of five years imprisonment.