Family Plea On Whole-Life Sentences

9 June 2015, 12:07

The family of a woman murdered in her own home by a violent re-offender has taken its campaign for whole of life sentences to Holyrood in a bid to protect other families from similar situations.

Isabelle Sanders, 51, was stabbed to death by Paul McManus, 20, during a robbery at her home in Crookston, Glasgow, in April last year.

He was given a life sentence with a minimum term of 26 years before he can apply for parole.

Ms Sanders's siblings James and Lindsay Dougall want the Scottish Judiciary to be given the option to sentence violent re-offenders who commit murder to a whole-life custodial sentence.

They have lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the change and gave evidence at the Public Petitions Committee today.

During McManus's trial, it was heard that he stabbed Ms Sanders 37 times. He was also convicted of attempting to murder her partner Norman Busby, 86.

Afterwards, it emerged he had been released from serving a previous sentence five weeks before the murder.

At present the charge of murder is required by law to carry a mandatory life sentence, comprised of a minimum jail term and an indeterminate period during which the prisoner remains in custody if necessary for the protection of the public.

Mr Dougall told MSPs that statistics show that about 5% of life prisoners who are released by the parole board after completing their minimum jail term go on to re-offend again.

"The 5% will be deterred by nothing - that is the whole point. The public needs to be protected from this 5%,'' he said.

Mr Dougall continued: "I realise the petition doesn't address our situation individually and addresses a much wider issue, but I think our situation gives an example of what I am trying to speak about.

"He (McManus) was 19 when the offence occurred and will be released when he is 45 assuming that he get through the parole board.

"That's six years younger than Isabelle when she was murdered in her own home.

"This individual has already had opportunities to reform, how can we be sure that if we do release him that he won't offend again? How can we be sure that he is not one of the 5%?

"We raised the petition to protect other families from similar situations.''

Mr Dougall suggested Scotland could follow the English sentencing model, which allows judges to impose a whole-life custodial sentences, and provides guidelines for when this may be appropriate.

Scots law already allows for the possibility that the minimum period of custody set by the judge may exceed the prisoner's life expectancy, but it must be specified in years and months.

Mr Dougall said the only case he could find where this had been done was that of Angus Sinclair, who was convicted of the 1977 World's End murders of teenagers Christine Eadie and Helen Scott in October 2014.

Sentenced to a minimum prison term of 37 years, Sinclair would be 106 years old before being eligible for parole.

MSPs agreed to write to the Scottish Government to ask if the matter would be appropriate for the new Scottish Sentencing Council to consider.

The council is due to be established by October this year to provide clear sentencing guidelines for Scotland.

They also agreed to write to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to establish how often a sentence which was manifestly longer than the offender's life expectancy had been imposed by judges.

Speaking after the evidence session, Mr Dougall said the family's campaign has public backing, with almost 1,000 signatures supporting the petition, and support from social media.

He added: "I think public opinion would be that in some cases it (a whole-life custodial sentence) does show that justice has been done.''