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HMA v Craig Derrick, Brian Laing & David Till


Aug 6, 2020

At the High Court in Glasgow today, Lord Matthews imposed extended sentences on three prisoners after they pleaded guilty to the culpable homicide of another prisoner.

On sentencing, Lord Matthews made the following statement in Court: 

“You have all pleaded guilty to the culpable homicide of Darren Brownlie in the circumstances set out in the narrative which was read on 9 July 2020. 

Put shortly, all three of you were serving sentences of imprisonment at Low Moss and Mr Brownlie was a remand prisoner. He was prescribed Buprenorphine and on occasions exchanged it for other substances such as co-called legal highs. He had been known to pass off a less potent drug in such exchanges and it appears that this is what he did shortly before his death, leading to the attack upon him.

It is not necessary for me to go into details about that attack. You Mr Laing, followed him into his cell, pinned him against a table and then punched him twice on the left side of the body. He was then told by you, Mr Till, that Mr Derrick wanted to see him in his cell, whereupon he followed you to that cell. Once he was within that cell he was the victim of a number of blows consistent with punches, kicks or coming into contact with hard surfaces. You, Mr Derick, were in the cell for the whole period, you, Mr Till, for all but a few seconds at the beginning and you, Mr Laing, on one occasion for around 9 seconds at the end, having stood guard outside. The whole thing lasted about 66 seconds, between 17 01.01.04 and 17 02.10.

Another individual assisted Mr Brownlie from the cell and prison staff were alerted. A nurse examined him at 1715, found that his pulse was normal and, while his blood pressure was high, it was not alarmingly so. He had superficial injuries to his face and bruising and swelling to the left side of his ribs. He was in obvious pain and said that it was sore to breathe. The nurse suspected that he might have broken ribs and requested that an ambulance be called. That was duly done at about 1728 but on a non-emergency basis. It was anticipated that it would take about two hours for an ambulance to arrive. He was checked from time to time by prison staff but at one point was told by a member of staff to stop pressing the buzzer. Mr Brownlie’s condition worsened. Between 1915 and 1930 the nurse checked him and found that he had vomited and had been doubly incontinent. She suspected that he might have had a seizure and requested that the ambulance service be contacted and that the call be upgraded to emergency. That was done at about 1936 and again at 1938. Even then the call was graded yellow, which on the scale of priorities is below amber, red and purple. No ambulance became available until 2117 but it was diverted to deal with a purple call. Eventually an ambulance was assigned at 2145 and arrived at the prison at 2159. There was a further delay in the vehicle being admitted and Mr Brownlie was not seen till 2155 by which time he was not breathing. The paramedics attempted CPR, which no one had as yet administered to Mr Brownlie, but to no avail.

I make no comment on these various circumstances. They will be the subject of a Fatal Accident Inquiry in due course but I accept that had it not been for the delay in receiving treatment Mr Brownlie would have survived, death being the result of a gradual bleed from his spleen, which was ruptured.

That having been said, it was you three, in the various parts you played, who caused him to require medical treatment and you three who are ultimately responsible for his death, although the Crown have accepted that the crime was not murder but culpable homicide. It may be that the fact that Mr Brownlie had an enlarged spleen made him more susceptible to trauma but you have to take your victim as you find him.

I have taken account of everything said on your behalf and the contents of the reports. I accept that all of you are genuinely remorseful. I accept that you did not intend to kill Mr Brownlie but if you commit an attack like this then you take a chance that death might result. Furthermore the offence was made even worse by the fact that it was committed while you were in custody.  Each of you has a record which includes convictions for violence. Your records are not identical nor were the parts you played but I see no reason to distinguish between you. This was plainly an attack which was planned with all three of you knowing what was to be done and helping it to be accomplished.

No sentence I can impose will ever be enough to allay the grief felt by Mr Brownlie’s family and friends. He went into prison to await trial and he and they were entitled to assume that he would be safe there. That proved not to be the case. His family will undoubtedly have a large number of questions about what happened and I hope that in due course they will receive answers. In the meantime I have to pass a sentence which reflects the circumstances as well as I can, bearing in mind that the assault was not one which would ordinarily have resulted in death.

Having considered the terms of the reports and your records it seems to me that an extended sentence is required to protect the public from serious harm from you on your release because the normal conditions of a licence would not be sufficient, given your propensity to violence. Such a sentence consists of a custodial element and an extension period during which you will be subject to a licence, the conditions of which will be set by the Scottish Ministers. Breach of the conditions may see you recalled to prison after release to serve the remainder of the sentence.

Had this case gone to trial I would have imposed on each of you an extended sentence of 11 years consisting of a custodial element of 9 years and an extension period of 2 years.

As far as you are concerned, Mr Laing and Mr Till, in view of the plea being offered the day before the Preliminary Hearing, the sentence will be an extended one of 8 years and 9 months, the custodial element being 6 years and 9 months and the extension period remaining at 2 years. It will run in your case Mr Laing from 23 March 2020 and in your case Mr Till from 1 May 2020.

Mr Derrick you offered your plea several weeks before your co-accused by way of a Section 76 letter and I should recognise that so the sentence in your case is an extended one of 8 years, with a custodial element of 6 years and an extension period of 2 years. It will run from 10 July 2020.”

6 August 2020