HMA v DAVID PATON and four others

At the High Court in Glasgow Judge Rae QC sentenced David Paton and four others in relation to the murder of Christopher Knox on the 10 June 2011 in Greenock.

On sentencing Judge Rae made the following statement in court:

“Having heard many days of evidence in this case, particularly in relation to charge 5, it is clear to me that you were all involved to a greater or lesser degree in what was a appalling incident which led to the needless death of a young man only two days after his 17th birthday.  The motive for the attack on this young man, Christopher Knox, was, at least on the part of you, David Paton, that he had given information to the police about your involvement in the robbery which is contained in charge four.  You had also threatened him that, if you were convicted of this charge, you would stab him.  Thereafter one of your associates, you Sean O’Neill, saw fit to target the deceased on the fateful night of 10 June, identify him as Christopher Knox, accuse him of being a “grass” and then call on you, Paton, to see whether you wanted him assaulted, which you said you did want.  O’Neill then proceeded, during a prolonged incident, to insult, intimidate and assault the young man who was so frightened by what was happening that he summoned his father to help him.

Not satisfied with encouraging O’Neill to assault the deceased as a further attempt to intimidate him, you, Mr Paton, then arrived along with others, including John Paul McCowan who stabbed and killed the deceased. 

In view of the Crown’s deletions to charge five, so far as you are concerned, Mr McCowan, it is not being suggested that you were trying to prevent the deceased giving evidence, unlike Paton and O’Neill, who were.  Why you decided to arm yourself, bring a knife to the scene and use it, only you know.  But having regard to your record for violence, despite your youth, I can only infer that you went out that night with the intent of using violence again, this time fatally, and that makes you a very dangerous young man.

In your case Mr Paton you have been convicted of culpable homicide, presumably on the basis that you did not have the same murderous intent as Mr McCowan, however you must have taken part in this attack in the knowledge that a knife was to be used or was being used and your position is made more serious by your motive for the attack and your attempts to intimidate a witness.

You also threatened to stab the deceased’s father in the street and to burn his house down while his son is lying dying.  In addition you shout to Christopher’s parents that he deserved what he got because he was a “grass”.  The following month you see Mr Knox senior drive by and you shout and laugh at him and make a gesture towards him.    You have no regard of the grief Christopher’s parents must be suffering at the loss of their young son.  I have no words to describe such behaviour. 

What was most disturbing was that I detected no remorse whatsoever from any of you during this trial, particularly from those who gave evidence. 

I am going to deal with the accused in reverse order. 

ADAM JOHNSTON and DAVID RICE

I have said very little about Mr Johnstone and Mr Rice.  Both of you were clearly on the periphery of this incident and played a very small part.  I have to have regard to your youth and lack of record and the fact that you have had a murder charge hanging over you right up to the end of the trial.  I had seriously considered imposing a custodial sentence on you Mr Johnston, particularly in view of your contempt of court but I have decided, on reflection, both in your case and that of Mr Rice, to defer sentence for a period of 8 months to a date in December, namely 10 December in Paisley High Court.  During that deferral you must be of good behaviour.

JOHN PAUL McCOWAN

In your case Mr McCowan you must realise that in respect of the murder charge there is only one sentence which I can impose and that is detention without limit of time.  I require however to make an order setting what is called a punishment part, that is, the minimum period of time that you require to serve in prison to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, but in setting that period I can have no regard to the issue of any risk that you might present in the future to the public at large.

The effect of this will be that you will not be eligible for parole or release until the punishment part has expired.  Thereafter it will be for the Parole Board and the Parole Board alone to consider whether you still present a risk to the public, or, whether you can be released on a life licence with appropriate conditions.  If you are still considered a risk you will not be released. 

I note your youth and personal circumstances as disclosed by your Counsel, but it is concerning that you initially failed to co-operate with the social worker in preparing a background report for the court.  I now have the benefit of a social enquiry report, prepared only this morning and note what you say occurred on the night of the killing. In my view none of this was specifically raised in the course of the trial.  You also wish to apologize to the family of the deceased but this apology comes very late in the day.

In sentencing you I have to have regard to the fact that, in committing this crime you were both on bail and on a curfew condition of bail which you breached.  You were on bail for an allegation of repeatedly stabbing another youth and despite this you ventured out on 10 June in possession of a lethal weapon.

In view of all of the circumstances of this case, particularly your use of a knife and your record, I have decided that the punishment part should be 17 years backdated to 13 June 2011.

On charge 9 the sentence will be 9 months which will run consecutively to the punishment part I have just imposed.

SEAN O’NEILL

You have pleaded guilty to a serious charge because the assault on Christopher Knox was aggravated by the fact that this was a clear attempt to intimidate a witness in a future trial.  It is essential in any civilised system of justice that witnesses have a duty to co-operate with the authorities and provide information to the police who are investigating crime.  Those same witnesses, however, should expect that they can give evidence without fear of intimidation.  Sadly, it is too late for Christopher Knox but I am of the view that, if witnesses are threatened or intimidated, the courts have to send a message that such conduct will be treated severely.  Also I cannot ignore the fact that you started this whole chain of events off, although I recognise the fact that you left before Christopher Knox was stabbed. 

I note your youth and prior good record.   I have also noted your plea of guilty, albeit at a very late stage, however, I have decided that there will be no discount for that plea due to the lateness of it and the fact that when giving evidence, despite the terms of it, you denied involvement in any attempt to intimidate Christopher Knox and you minimised your involvement in the assault.  In addition you showed no hint of remorse.

To reflect the serious nature of this charge you will be sentenced to a period of 4 years detention backdated to 9 March 2012.

DAVID PATON

Some of the comments I have made in Mr O’Neill’s case apply equally to you, particularly in relation to your attempts to threaten and intimidate Christopher Knox prior to his death and to the serious view the courts have to take of such conduct. 

You must realise that you hold the main responsibility for the attack on Christopher Knox.  Your callous attitude towards his parents after the stabbing is despicable. 

Once again I have to have regard to your youth and lack of previous convictions.  I also have to reflect the restricted verdict in any sentence but this is still a very serious matter having regard to the aggravations and the fact you were on bail.

Because of the length of the sentence I am imposing on charge 5, and the fact that I shall order all of the sentences to run consecutively, I shall impose shorter sentence on charges 4, 7 and 10 than I would otherwise have imposed had they stood alone.

On charge 4 you will be sentenced to 6 months detention backdated to 16 March 2012.

On charge 5 the sentence will be 12 years detention with 6 months attributable to the bail aggravations.

On charge 7 the sentence will be 9 months detention (having included the bail aggravation in charge 5, I will ignore the aggravation on this charge)

On charge 10 the sentence will be 3 months”.