HMA v Youth

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 10 January 2019, Lord Arthurson sentenced a 17-year-old girl to detention for life with a punishment part of 16 years after the accused was found guilty of the murder of 18-year-old Connor Cowper. On sentencing, Lord Arthurson made the following statement in court:

“At some time after 10am on 12 April 2018 at a house party at 14 Spruce Way, Holytown, Motherwell, you, in the words of your own senior counsel at your trial, buried a kitchen knife some 11 centimetres, or 4 inches, into the neck of Connor Cowper, as a result of which catastrophic injury he died. 

“You had only met Connor for the first time at the party. He was, to all extents and purposes, a stranger to you. He was only 18 years of age. 

“Your defence of self defence was plainly rejected by the jury which, on 13 December 2018 at Glasgow High Court, duly convicted you of the murder of Connor Cowper. 

“Your attack upon him was deliberate, brutal, unprovoked and entirely murderous, and this murder was committed by you at the age of 17 when you were still a child, while you were under the influence of cocaine and alcohol.  Indeed, even at today’s date, you remain only 17 years of age.

“Your victim’s family sat in court with silent dignity throughout the trial proceedings, enduring the highly disturbing evidence which was presented by the Crown to the jury during the case. 

“I have in addition read full and moving victim impact statements from senior members of Connor’s family. It is very clear that the effects of your appalling criminal act are and will continue to be profound and enduring. 

“There is nothing, however, which I can say or do today which will bring comfort or compensation to the Cowper family for the loss which they have sustained through Connor’s death at your hands, and indeed it may well be that no sentence which this court could impose will ever be regarded as a sufficient punishment from their perspective, and that is wholly understandable. 

“The criminal justice social work report prepared for today’s sentencing hearing records that you stated to the author of that report that you not only feel regret regarding the offence, but feel significant empathy towards the friends and family of your victim. 

“As the presiding judge at your trial, I have to say that I saw no evidence of this attitude or empathy either in your reaction to the evidence presented at the trial or indeed in the course of your own evidence, which was given over an extended period. Your demeanour throughout the trial proceedings was flat and disinterested, and gave not the slightest appearance of empathy.

“No criminal record was tendered to the court by the Crown upon your conviction by the jury. Nevertheless, the background report makes clear that you have a considerable history of what the author terms offending behaviour, mostly related to violence associated with alcohol or substance misuse, which has included on several occasions the possession and/or use by you of bladed weapons. 

“The report records in detail further that you were expelled from secondary school in your first year for assaulting a fellow student who had additional needs. This was filmed and uploaded to social media. The episode was considered by the community to be so shocking that your family had to be relocated. 

“You are in my view a highly dangerous and unstable individual, and Connor Cowper on 12 April 2018 was, tragically, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, that is to say in your company when you were under the influence of drugs and alcohol and had access to a bladed weapon.

“The report also makes it abundantly clear that you have experienced significant trauma and abuse for many years in the course of your own life, and I do not hesitate in characterising you as a vulnerable young woman. 

“This conviction and the sentence which the court must impose today have of course had and will have tragic consequences for you. You were pregnant at the time that you committed this offence, and have bonded with your child, albeit while in custody during supervised contact over limited time periods.

“I have listened with great care to all that has been said on your behalf this morning by your senior counsel in the course of his helpful and powerful submissions in mitigation, and take into account all that he has said in selecting the punishment part of your sentence. In particular, I note your considerable youth and vulnerability, and the significant personal consequences for you regarding separation from your child while you are serving your sentence.

“Tuning finally to sentence, you will be well aware that the penalty for the crime of murder is fixed by law and is one of, in your case, detention for life.  That is the only sentence which the court can impose therefore in respect of this indictment.

“However, as part of that sentence I have to select a period which must pass before you can apply for release on parole, and that is known as the punishment part of the sentence. Whether you actually are or are not released at any time thereafter will be a matter for the Parole Board for Scotland, and of course even after any future release you will be subject to recall to prison for the rest of your life. 

“My decision in fixing the punishment part is based on the whole circumstances of this case, including in particular the gravity of the crime of which you have been convicted, the contents of the criminal justice social work report, your whole personal circumstances and what has been said this morning on your behalf.

“In all of these circumstances I now sentence you on this indictment to detention for life, which will run from 13 April 2018, being the date when you were initially remanded in custody in respect of this offence.  I fix the punishment part at 16 years.”