HMA v George Knowles

At the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen today, (6 December 2019), Sheriff Miller imposed a community payback order with a 12 month offender supervision requirement and a requirement to complete 250 hours of unpaid work within 9 months after George Knowles pled guilty to charges of fraud.

On sentencing Sheriff Miller made the following statement in court:

“At the adjourned first diet on 24 October 2019 you pled guilty to 23 charges of fraud, spanning an eight-month period between 1 August 2016 and 1 March 2017. These offences clearly form part of a single course of conduct for sentencing purposes.

Each of the charges involved accepting a deposit from a different customer of your gardening business, for work which you agreed to carry out via your business. The deposits ranged from a few hundred pounds to £12,500. All were significant sums to the customers involved. None of the work was carried out.

At the last hearing on 22 November I was told that you knew by early 2016 that your business was in significant financial trouble and that, by the dates of these offences, you knew that there was no prospect of the work to which these deposits related being carried out. The total of the deposits paid by the customers involved in the charges to which you pled guilty was in excess of £84,810, all of which was lost to those customers as a result of these offences.

I accept that the deposits paid by these customers were not used to fund a luxurious lifestyle for you and your family. Rather, in the knowledge that your business was in financial trouble, you used these deposits to buy materials and meet other expenses in an attempt to complete gardening work for other, earlier customers of your business.

Had you taken appropriate advice and addressed the financial difficulties affecting your business in early 2016, even if that involved winding up your business at that stage (as has since happened), these offences would not have been committed.

These charges disclose a very serious course of offending. The level of culpability involved in these offences was high. The sums involved were significant. The impact on the victims of these offences has clearly also been significant.

When this matter called for sentence on 22 November I was told that your partner is receiving treatment for cancer, that she would have no support network available to her if you were to be imprisoned and that she would be unable to look after herself or your two-year-old daughter were that to happen.

I continued the case until today for further information about those issues.

A number of reports from medical practitioners involved in your partner’s care and treatment, which have been provided to the court, confirm the very serious nature of her condition, which was diagnosed subsequent to the commission of these offences, the debilitating nature of the treatment which she has undergone and the significant continuing impact of her condition and her treatment on her general health, her mobility and her ability to carry out everyday tasks and care for herself and for your daughter. Social workers who met her recently in the course of preparing reports for this case also found that she appeared to be “extremely unwell.”

The further Criminal Justice Social Work Report prepared for today’s hearing confirms that, as a result of your partner’s condition and her limited mobility, she depends entirely on your practical support for her own daily care and for the care of your daughter.

This report confirms that your partner, who is not a UK national, has no family support network of her own in this country. It also confirms that your extended family are not in a position to offer ongoing practical support to your partner or your daughter and that, if you were sentenced to imprisonment, the possibility exists that your daughter may need to be taken into the care of the local authority if, as seems likely, your partner is not able to care for her.

The purpose of these criminal proceedings is to address the question of whether the activities to which these charges related were criminal – and by your pleas of guilty you accept that they were – and then to identify the appropriate sentence.

I do not have the power, in these criminal proceedings, to make decisions about any civil rights of action which the victims of these offences may have against you. On the other hand, the outcome of today’s hearing does not affect any civil rights of action which the victims of these offences may have against you.

Although a criminal court does have the power to order an offender to pay compensation to victims of crime, it is clear that you do not have the means to pay such compensation. Your only income at present is derived from benefits. In these circumstances it is clearly not appropriate for the court to make compensation orders in this case.   

I have already noted the serious nature of these offences. There are however a number of mitigating factors which must also be taken into account:

  • As I have indicated, I am satisfied that you did not commit these offences for purely personal gain;
  • You have no previous convictions for offences involving dishonesty;
  • You have expressed remorse for the impact of these offences on the victims who lost their deposits;
  • You and your immediate family have suffered significant consequences as a result of these offences. You have been ostracised by members of your wider family. You have lost your former home and now you, your partner and your daughter live in a caravan in an isolated location. You also continue to experience hostility from members of the community, some of whom have attended at your home in order to express their views to you;
  • The reports prepared for court indicate that you pose a low risk of further offending and that you are suitable for a community based disposal; and
  • Most notably, your partner’s medical condition renders her unable to properly care for herself or for your daughter without your daily practical support.

This final factor is of particular significance. It is because of the likely impact of a custodial sentence on your partner and daughter that, despite the serious nature of these offences and their significant impact upon the victims, I do not intend to impose a custodial sentence today.

In my view, but for your partner’s serious medical condition and the likely impact of a custodial sentence upon her and upon your daughter, a significant custodial sentence would have been merited in this case, despite the other mitigating factors I have identified.

However I must have regard not only to the seriousness of your offences and their impact on the victims, but also to your personal circumstances and the likely impact of a custodial sentence on your partner and your daughter.

It is clear that, were the court to impose a sentence of imprisonment today, the victims of your offences would be no more likely to receive their money back. However such a sentence would be likely to have a devastating impact upon your partner and daughter, for the reasons I have already identified. It is this factor which leads me to conclude that a custodial sentence would be inappropriate today.

Instead, as a direct alternative to a sentence of imprisonment, I intend to make a community payback order with two requirements. The first is a requirement that you carry out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community. The maximum number of hours which the court could impose is 300. I am required to adjust the number of hours to take account of the fact that you pled guilty at the adjourned first diet on 24 October, thus publicly accepting your guilt and avoiding a potentially lengthy trial. I have limited that adjustment to a reduction of 50 hours from the maximum.

You must complete these hours of unpaid work within nine months. During the life of the order your supervising officer will allocated unpaid work to you. You must attend and complete that work as directed by your supervising officer.

The second requirement of this order is that you will be under the supervision of the local authority in the community for a period of 12 months. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that the issues which appear to have influenced your behaviour in committing these offences are addressed, so that no further offences are committed by you in the future. You must attend appointments in relation to the supervision requirement as directed by your supervising officer.

You must not miss any appointment, for unpaid work or supervision, without good reason, which must be explained to your supervising officer, preferably in advance.

This order is imposed, instead of a sentence of imprisonment, because of the likely impact of a custodial sentence upon your partner and daughter. However, if you fail to attend and complete the hours of unpaid work or the supervision requirement as directed without good reason, or if you fail to comply with any other aspect of this order, the circumstances will be reported to the court. If the court finds that you are in breach of the order, it can deal with the matter in a number of ways, including by bringing the order to an end and imposing another sentence, including a sentence of imprisonment.

I have considered whether a Restriction of Liberty Order, requiring you to remain within your home address each day during hours set by the court, would also be appropriate in your case. In my view it would not, having regard to the nature of the property in which you live, your partner’s ongoing health issues and treatment requirements, the fact that your daughter also lives there and the information provided to the court regarding hostile visits to the property by members of the community.”

Sentencing Statements

HMA v Dennis Charles Cox

Tuesday, 18 February, 2020

HMA v Anthony Peter Allan

Tuesday, 18 February, 2020

HMA v Keith Russell

Friday, 14 February, 2020

HMA v Joseph Whyte

Friday, 14 February, 2020

HMA v Stephen Reed

Thursday, 13 February, 2020