HMA v Connor Ward

At the High Court in Glasgow today, 12 April 2018, Lord Burns imposed a discretionary life sentence (punishment part six years) on Connor Ward after he was found guilty of preparing for acts of terrorism. On sentencing Lord Burns made the following statement in court:

“The jury found you guilty of both charges on the indictment. They were satisfied that you were in the course of preparing acts of terrorism.  From the evidence which entitled them to convict you, I proceed on the basis that by 21 November 2014, you had formed an intention to attack a mosque or mosques in Aberdeen which would have involved the use of some form of IED probably containing  ball bearings. You would have acted alone in this. 

That seems to me a legitimate inference from the evidence and the verdict of the jury. You had reached the stage of identifying your target, namely one of the mosques in Aberdeen as vouched by the map and the Combat 18 address book which contained an express threat against the lives of Moslems. You had chosen a method of inflicting damage to that target and anyone in it as demonstrated by the purchase of ball bearings and tubes to put them in.  You had explored means by which you might disguise yourself in order to perpetrate this act and avoid detection. I accept that it is likely that the relevant conduct involved in the development of this plan occurred between November 2013 and November 2014.

This analysis is inevitably a selective one in that other materials and information were found which could have been used for a different form of terrorist act and some items, including weapons, may well have been intended for onward sale. It may be that, at some stage, you actively considered other means of perpetrating an act of terrorism.  Nevertheless, I consider that your intention, as it had developed by November 2014, was as I have stated.

It is clear that you are deeply committed to neo-Nazi ideology and were prepared to advance the aims of a terrorist organisation, such as Combat 18, by preparing to commit an attack on an Islamic place of worship. Such an attack would have had catastrophic results. 

This involved a high level of research and planning as shown by the vast collection of manuals for the manufacture of IEDs at home. Because you reached the stage of buying the materials, namely ball bearings, which would have gone into the IED, it is legitimate to infer that you planned to cause serious injury, at the least, to anyone within or in the vicinity of the building at the time of the explosion. 

You have previous convictions for acts of violence and under the Explosive Substances Act 1883. The sentences imposed on you previously had no effect on your behaviour or attitudes. Nor did the fact that you were being monitored by the police under a SRO during at least some of the time during which the current offences were committed.  

You have been assessed as posing a high level of risk and a very high risk of serious harm. You suffer from various personality disorders. Your obsession with weapons and explosives combined with your deeply entrenched and extreme right wing prejudices lead me to conclude that you are likely to pose a serious risk to the public for an indefinite period. 

I have therefore reached the view that in your case it is necessary for the protection of the public that a discretionary life sentence be passed on you on charge 1. I do not consider that a determinate sentence, even with an extension period, would provide the necessary degree of public protection.

That requires me to fix a punishment part. I do so taking into account the conviction on charge 2.  I consider that the appropriate length of that element is 6 years. 

I have arrived that that figure on the basis that the determinate sentence I would have passed, representing the requirements of punishment and retribution, would have been 15 years from which I deduct 3 years as the element for public protection. I then require to halve the resulting figure giving a punishment part of 6 years. 

That figure is arrived at by reference to the case of Kahar 2016 2 Cr App Reports 304 and to the following factors: the gravity of the crimes, the potential consequences, the fact that you acted alone, and the stage which your preparations had reached, your PCs and the deception used to avoid detection by the authorities monitoring you at the time. 

That will be backdated to 26 February 2018. 

I should say that, while I have not followed the English Guideline in order to reach that sentence, not least because they are not yet applicable even in England, I have had regard to them as a cross check on the sentence I have selected. 

Although Mr Mackenzie invited me to categorise culpability and harm at the lowest end of the scale in respect of charge 1, I am unable to agree with his categorisations. It is of course a matter of some difficulty in selecting from the available choices when the sentencer is dealing only with a jury’s verdict on a charge of preparation for a terrorist act the effects of which would not be capable of accurate prediction even if the precise details were known. That is especially true of the categorisation of the likelihood of harm. 

However, I would have placed this offence in category B, having regard to the evidence I have outlined and in category 2 in respect of harm. As such the starting point would have been life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years and a range of between 10 and 20 years. While various of the aggravating factors are present which might lead to an increase from 15 and the conviction on charge 2 would have to be factored in, there is some force in the submission that your culpability is lessened by his mental problems.  So I would not have been inclined to increase the sentence from its starting point”. 

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