HMA v TONY KEITH ELLIS

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Tyre imposed a three year probation order on Tony Keith Ellis after he pled guilty to the attempted murder of his wife on 26 September 2010.

On sentencing Lord Tyre made the following statement in court:

"You have pled guilty to the very serious charge of attempting to murder your wife.  It is a matter of great good fortune, for you as well as for her, that your attempt was unsuccessful as you might otherwise be facing a charge of murder for which a mandatory life imprisonment sentence would have to be imposed.

The circumstances in which you attempted to suffocate your wife have been explained at length in the narrative provided to me and in the social work and psychological reports which have been obtained.  The explanation of why you did what you did appears to lie in the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome which has been made by the Consultant Psychologist.  I have found her reports to be of considerable assistance.  However, given the terms of your guilty plea, I am bound to deal with this case on the basis that you were not precluded by any element of diminished responsibility for what you did, or to proceed on any basis other than that at the time you committed the offence you had the intention to kill which is an ingredient of a charge of murder or of attempted murder.  In most circumstances appropriate punishment could only be achieved by the imposition of a custodial sentence.  However, I decided that I wished some further information before doing so. 

I have now received a supplementary report from the consultant psychologist.  She states that the necessary and appropriate treatment to address your Aspergers Syndrome would be by a psychologist adopting a Cognitive Behavioural approach with experience of working with individuals with autistic spectrum disorders such as Aspergers Syndrome.  She has recommended areas which should be explored in the programme of treatment and also matters which should be addressed in a cognitive therapy programme.   One specific matter which I asked to be addressed was the risk, if any, towards your wife if you were free to return to live with her.  The psychologist has expressed the view that with appropriate and knowledgeable one to one interventions used to address the issues which led to the commission of this offence, any risk which you may pose is likely to be fairly easily managed within the community and with appropriate support and supervision via criminal justice social workers. 

I have also received a supplementary Criminal Justice Social Work report which identifies the various issues which will have to be addressed on your return to the community.  Some of these can be managed with assistance from social workers, and I understand from what was said this morning that a programme for repayment of the debts which led to this offence has already been put in place.  So far as addressing the implications of the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome is concerned, this depends upon putting in place an appropriate one to one programme of cognitive behaviour therapy.  I am now advised that the psychologist who prepared the report would be willing to undertake such therapy and moreover that it could begin more or less immediately. 

You have no previous convictions and have never therefore served a custodial sentence.  Before I imposed a sentence of imprisonment for this offence I would require to be satisfied that no other method of dealing with you is appropriate.  The circumstances of the present case are highly exceptional.  I have listened to what has been said on your behalf this morning.  I have also taken into account the conclusions and recommendations of the consultant psychologist in her original report and in her supplementary report.  In particular, she has concluded:

  • that you present a low risk of future violence;
  • that a lengthy period of detention in prison would be likely to increase the risk of stress affecting your actions and that there is also a possibility that your behaviour would become institutionalised;
  • that you have a diagnosed condition for which treatment is necessary and for which appropriate treatment is available;
  • that a therapeutic community setting would be better for you than a prison environment;
  • in particular, that it is highly probably, in view of the screening diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome, that you would take compliance with remediation attempts seriously and would be highly motivated to participate in any attempts to address your cognitive behavioural and developmental disorder.

Finally, I have taken into account the victim impact statement provided by your wife in which she states a very strong wish that you be allowed to return home to live with her.

A crime such as the one you committed should not go unpunished and I do not intend that it should go unpunished.   However, having regard to all of what I have said, I have concluded that it is not necessary to impose a custodial sentence.  Instead, I am prepared to place you on probation provided you tell me that you are willing to agree to certain conditions.

You will be placed on probation under the supervision of a supervising officer for three years and you will undertake during that period (firstly) to behave yourself; (secondly) to conform to the directions of the supervising officer as to your conduct; and (thirdly) to inform the supervising officer at once if you change your residence.  I would anticipate that the directions of the supervising officer would cover matters such as your financial issues but that will be a matter for the officer to decide.
 
In addition, I will impose the following conditions:
• You will carry out 240 hours of unpaid work;
• You will attend one to one treatment sessions with Ms. Jenny Godbold, Chartered Psychologist, within the offices of Inverness Social Work Department, the number and frequency of such sessions and the dates and times to be arranged by Ms. Godbold. The first session is to commence within 14 days from today's date.

I must make it clear to you that if during the period of probation you fail to comply with any of the conditions of the probation order, or commit another offence, you will be liable to be brought back here for sentence for the offence with which I am dealing today.
I shall fix a Probation Progress Review in approximately 4 months, that is to say, towards the end of September.

I accept that you are strongly motivated to co-operate in this treatment programme and also in the unpaid work requirement, and I urge you to take full advantage of this diagnosis of your condition which has occurred rather late in life and only after a very serious event".

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