HMA v Bradley Wallace

At Glasgow Sheriff Court today, 27 February 2019, Sheriff Andrew Cubie sentenced Bradley Wallace to 10 months’ imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to assaulting a priest by spitting at him – an offence aggravated by religious prejudice.

On sentencing, Sheriff Cubie made following statement in court:

“Bradley Wallace, in sentencing you, the court is concerned only with the offence to which you have pled guilty. You are not being sentenced for the acts of others. But the general context of threats and insults by a crowd, and the social context in which this offence took place cannot be overlooked.

“The courts have a responsibility to reflect the evolving societal attitude towards certain behaviour, particularly when the legislators have reflected that change in approach. You accept that the offence was motivated by religious prejudice, in this case anti-Catholicism.

“This case is not about any interference with the right of people to celebrate their traditions or upbringing. The right to mark these events does not free individuals from compliance with the law. You were not thwarted or impeded by this complainer in your wish to follow the parade.

“This is about the courts reflecting disapproval of the depressingly still deep seated and widespread social issue of sectarianism which generates at the very least tension and at worst both hatred and conflict and which disfigures civilised society. The courts in Scotland still deal all too frequently with cases of sectarian abuse which serve to harden and perpetuate divisions in society.

“The law rightly recognises that special care should be given to those who are susceptible to acting more impulsively and impetuously, generally those under 21; but you are 24 and well away from adolescence. And your 24 years have coincided with increasing attempts to educate society about the blight of sectarianism.

“You are at an age when you must realise that such behaviour serves to maintain the sectarian divide. How could any 24 year old from Scotland not know that it is wrong to peddle sectarianism? It is no doubt partly because of the ‘echo chamber’ effect of much social media, where your loyalties are displayed and perhaps your motivation identified.

“There are features in mitigation; you pled guilty early; you have a minimal record; you have shown yourself capable of contributing to society; I have read the letter from your mother in relation to both her circumstance and those of your brother; you have a work record and have provided family support which do you credit. But these are normally protective factors, reducing the risk of offending; they did not operate as such in your case.

“The report is generally positive. You show remorse which is described as genuine. You recognise the unacceptable nature of your conduct. You show victim empathy. There is a low risk of recidivism. You are suitable for a community based disposal.

“But several matters exacerbate this behaviour. You were part of a crowd; the crowd was being abusive.

“From the Crown narrative it is clear that the abusive conduct intensified when the police were called to another incident. You personally were not under attack or pressure or threat at any stage.

“And this behaviour by the crowd culminated in the grotesque spectacle – in a 21st century, multi-cultural, inclusive Scotland – of a clergyman literally seeking sanctuary in his own church to avoid the behaviour of the crowd. But he could not return to the church.

“You could have acted with restraint but rather, no doubt emboldened by (and thinking that you were under the cover of this aggressive and threatening crowd, you took the decision to spit on the priest, an act which is disgusting, cowardly and provocative, which demonstrates contempt and hostility and is designed to humiliate and demean. The whole situation must have been, as you recognise, very frightening for the complainer and those around him.

“That you were caught was a matter of efficient policing. Although you are due credit for pleading guilty at the first opportunity, the DNA was conclusive about your involvement.

“You have pled guilty to an indictment which contains an aggravation on the basis of religious prejudice; the law says that I must indicate in what sense the sentence has been affected by the aggravation.

“In my view this entire incident was not so much aggravated by as entirely motivated by, religious prejudice; it is intrinsic to the offence that you targeted the complainer, a priest in his clerical garb in the aftermath of a church service; in the circumstances, the headline sentence which I select already factors in the religious prejudice displayed so I do not propose, in the circumstances of this offence, to draw any distinction in the sentence selected between the assault and the religious element given that the offence is so clearly rooted in religious prejudice and intolerance

“As to the sentence itself, sentencing can contain elements of retribution, deterrence, condemnation and rehabilitation. I recognise that there is more to sentencing than sending messages to society, but in this case the elements of condemnation and deterrence in my view outweigh the other factors in sentencing. Those tempted to act in a sectarian way must understand society’s repugnance of and weariness of that kind of behaviour and must expect to be dealt with accordingly.

“I have come to the conclusion that no manner of dealing with this matter other than a custodial sentence is appropriate, given the motivation, the nature and the context of the offence. The headline sentence reflects the positive aspects in the report. I would have imposed a period of 15 months’ imprisonment. I will modify that to 10 months to take account of the early plea of guilty.”