HMA v JOHN HOLLAND & PETER BURNS

Today at the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Tyre sentenced John Holland and Peter Burns to life imprisonment after they pled guilty to the murder of William Downie on the 17 April 2010 in Hamilton.

On sentencing Lord Tyre made the following statement in court:

“You have both pled guilty to the murder of William Downie.  The sentence for murder is mandatory.  I sentence you, John Holland, and you, Peter Burns, to life imprisonment.  These sentences will run from 22 April 2010 when you were remanded in custody.

I am also required by law to fix the period, known as the punishment part, that each of you must spend in prison before you may apply to the Parole Board for release on licence.  After the expiry of this period, your actual date of release will depend on whether and when the Parole Board considers that your imprisonment is no longer necessary for the protection of the public.  You should therefore each understand that you may be in prison for a longer period than the one that I am about to set as the punishment part of your respective sentences, and also that if the Parole Board does authorise your release and you breach the terms of your licence, you will be liable to be recalled to prison to serve the remainder of your sentence.

In setting the punishment part, being the period which I consider necessary to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, I have had regard principally to the circumstances of the offence.  When you were alerted to the presence of Mr Downie at a particular location you armed yourselves with bladed weapons and made your way there as soon as you could.  It has been explained to me that the reason you took knives was because you expected that Mr Downie would be similarly armed.   That may be so but you clearly intended to attack him and, in my opinion, it is an inescapable conclusion that you envisaged that you would use your knives in the course of that attack.  In the event the attack which you carried out was quite horrific in its relentless and remorseless violence.  You chased Mr Downie through a residential area of Hamilton until you cornered him in a garden.  You then, according to the forensic evidence, inflicted a total of 23 stab wounds to his head, body and arms, one of which penetrated his heart and resulted in his death shortly afterwards.  The frenzied nature of your actions is emphasised by the fact that after the principal attack each of you returned to your victim as he lay on the ground, you, John Holland to strike him on the head with a bottle, and you, Peter Burns, to stab him several more times.  That all of this occurred when you had been drinking is no excuse.

It has been said before in this court that knife crime is a scourge in the Scottish community and that the court should reflect public concern and act in a way which discourages the carrying of sharp weapons, the use of which may lead to needless deaths. It is appropriate that I pass a sentence which may cause others to think more carefully before arming themselves.

In this case I regard it as an aggravating factor that your actions were motivated by revenge upon Mr Downie.  I also take account of the sustained and frenzied nature of the attack which you carried out.  I have also taken into account your respective past criminal records.  On the other hand I have regard to the fact that you pled guilty at a preliminary hearing and thus avoided the distress and inconvenience which would have been caused to a large number of witnesses had the case proceeded to trial.   I have also listened carefully to what has been said on behalf of each of you this morning.

Peter Burns, I address you first.  You have previous convictions for violent offences and have served terms of detention and imprisonment for those offences and terms of imprisonment more recently for drugs offences.  Having regard to the circumstances of the offence and your past record I would have fixed your punishment part at 18 years.  In view of your guilty plea I reduce this period to 15 years 9 months.  That, I repeat, is the period of imprisonment which you will serve before you may apply for release on licence.

John Holland, I turn now to you.  I can find no justification in the circumstances of the offence for treating you differently from Mr Burns.  I have however had regard to the fact that your record of previous convictions is less serious and to the background to the incident as explained to me this morning.  I have also taken account of what is said in the character references submitted on your behalf and am prepared to accept that your behaviour on the day of this dreadful incident was out of character. In recognition of these factors, I would have fixed your punishment part at 16 years.  In view of your guilty plea I reduce this period to 14 years.  As I have said, that is the period of imprisonment which you will serve before you may apply for release on licence”.