HMA v Paul Johnson

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 15 November 2018, Lord Boyd of Duncansby sentenced Paul Johnson to four years’ imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to wilful fire-raising aggravated by religious prejudice. On sentencing, Lord Boyd made the following statement in court:

“Paul Johnson, you have pleaded guilty to two charges of wilful fire-raising. In the early hours of 28 August this year you deliberately set fire to the door of the Leith Methodist Church. Fortunately no serious damage was done.

“Sometime later you set fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Sheriff Brae, Edinburgh. On this occasion you gathered together combustible material and placed them against the doors poured petrol on it and set it on fire.

“Smoke entered the building and put the lives of those within the building at risk. As a result of the fire Mr Singh and his family were not able to stay in their living quarters.

“These were clearly planned attacks. You had earlier purchased a jerry can from a local petrol station. You went back some time later and purchased petrol. You were seen outside the temple on three occasions lighting paper and throwing it towards the door.

“I had hoped to learn something more about your motivation and your background from the criminal justice social work report, but it appears that while you were polite towards the author of the report you did not properly engage in the process. Your counsel appears to have had the same difficulty.

“What is clear is that you seem to have some sort of grudge against religion or religious authority and decided to take it out on two nearby religious buildings.

“You told police officers that you were confident that no one was in the building and that fire officers would not be at risk because of their training. You were of course wrong about people being in the building and your actions did put people at risk.

“Your actions were reckless and wicked.

“You have a criminal record which includes two convictions for culpable and reckless conduct. I take that into account.

“The offences are aggravated by religious prejudice. I am required to take that into account in determining the appropriate sentence and state whether the sentence is different from that which the court would have imposed had it not been for the aggravation.  In this case I have decided to make no such difference.

“It is clear from what I can glean about these offences that they were motivated by a grudge against religion or religious authority in general rather than prejudice or bigotry against any one group. Indeed you appeared unaware of the religious denomination of the buildings themselves.

“Had you been convicted after trial I would have imposed a sentence of six years’ imprisonment. You have never denied your guilt and you entered a plea at the earliest opportunity. Accordingly, I shall discount the sentence to one of four years. I shall backdate the sentence to 30 August 2018.”