HMA V MARTIN STEWART

At the High Court in Glasgow Lord Turnbull sentenced Martin Stewart to five years and three months in prison after he pled guilty to the culpable homicide of Craig Kirkwood at Irvine Beach Park on the 26 June 2010.

On sentencing Lord Turnbull made the following statement in court:

“This case concerns the death of a young man who was just about to begin his journey through adult life. It is clear from what I have been told that Craig Kirkwood was a clever and popular young man who was a good influence on and a role model for, both his own friends and the younger children whom he helped as a sports coach and in voluntary work.

He was a much loved son and older brother who was a source of pride and joy to his parents and family. He would, I am sure, have gone on to be successful in whatever career he chose for himself.

The fact of his death is an utter tragedy for his family and friends which can never be undone.

I can recognise though from what I have read and heard that you are genuinely remorseful over what has happened and do have the insight to appreciate the consequences of your actions, not only for Craig himself but for his family and friends as well.

Having pled guilty to the crime of culpable homicide you have accepted responsibility for causing his death through your own culpable and reckless conduct in driving your vehicle towards a group of teenagers who were running away.

No doubt you will have to live with that knowledge for the rest of your life but you must also accept that such conduct must result in appropriate punishment.

When it comes to assessing the appropriate sentence it is immediately obvious that no sentence which I can pass will alleviate the sense of grief and loss felt by Craig Kirkwood’s family.

I do not have the power to do that and the sentence which I will impose is not an attempt to do so. Nor in passing sentence am I in any sense trying to measure the worth of his life in terms of years of imprisonment.

I have no doubt that the sentence which I must impose on you will seem insignificant by comparison with the sentence which you have already imposed on Craig’s mother, father, brother and sister.

In assessing sentence I must of course take account of what you did and what the consequences were. In a case such as this only a custodial sentence could be appropriate.

However when it comes to an assessment of the appropriate period of imprisonment there are a number of factors which must be taken account of.

It is right of course that I take account of your background and your own family circumstances. As Mr Jackson suggested that should also extend to an understanding of how your community’s experiences have impacted on you.

I also take account of the fact that you are a young man with no previous criminal convictions of any note.

I also note that you have worked and supported yourself and your own family since you were a teenager yourself. Your own wife and young children will also now have to live with the impact of your conduct and cope with a period of enforced separation.

Furthermore I cannot simply focus on your conduct as if it occurred in isolation or in some sort of vacuum. It would be quite wrong to fail to take account of the whole events of that night. Accordingly it is right that I consider not just what you did but why you did it.

It is a further tragic feature of this case that the events were initiated by a group of otherwise likeable, probably polite and well behaved teenage boys who, under the influence of alcohol, engaged in prejudiced, unkind and aggressive behaviour of which they should be ashamed.

There was no cause or excuse for the insults which were hurled. All the less was there any excuse for their further violent conduct.

The fact is that you and your own young family were in bed in your own caravan having engaged in a peaceful evening without causing any trouble or irritation to anyone else.

Exactly the same applies to the others in the neighbouring caravans. For no reason you and your neighbours were then subjected to a frightening and unwarranted attack by the teenagers who banged on the caravan and threw stones and other items whilst a variety of insults were shouted.

I have no difficulty in recognising, as anyone would, that this experience must have been frightening and upsetting, especially for the very young children in the caravans.

Whilst I recognise that Craig Kirkwood was not one of the youngsters who did these things, he had unfortunately gone with the group who engaged in this conduct.

Taking account of the whole picture of the events of that night it is obvious that there are two truths which should be recognised:

The first is that but for your conduct in driving your vehicle towards the youngsters in the manner which you did, Craig Kirkwood would still be alive.

The second is that but for the behaviour of some of those who Craig was with that night, nothing would ever have happened at all.

It is right to observe then that a degree of responsibility has to be borne by the others who behaved shamefully by attacking your own group, none of whom were doing anything other than sleeping in their own beds.

However having acknowledged these facts, it is also obvious that you had a choice as to how to respond to what had occurred. I can accept that you found yourself in a stressful situation and a frightening situation.

However by the time you got out of the caravan there were no longer any teenagers in your campsite. It is clear from what I have been told about the height of the plateau that those who were there must have been an appreciable distance from you.

There was no ongoing attack once you were outside and protection to your family and homes could have been easily provided by the males who were there simply remaining in the vicinity of the caravans. Accordingly I do not accept Mr Jackson’s proposition that:

“In this case there was a very good reason to drive to the plateau”

What you did was not only reckless, it was wholly reprehensible. To drive such a large and heavy vehicle towards a group of youngsters in the pitch dark was clearly conduct of an outrageous manner.

For that reason alone and given the consequences which were so easily predictable, it is clear that a significant custodial sentence must be imposed, despite your previous good record and background.

Giving due weight to all of the relevant features of this awful event my judgement is that the appropriate sentence ought to be one of 7 years imprisonment.

However I am required by law to take account of the fact that you pled guilty to this offence and to reflect the benefit of that fact in a restriction of the appropriate sentence”.

Given that you pled guilty at the first calling of this case in terms which have now been accepted by the crown I will afford a discount of 25% resulting in a sentence of 5 years and 3 months to date from 26 May 2011”.