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HMA v John Watt QC


Aug 8, 2022

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, Lord Braid sentenced John Watt QC to 10 years imprisonment after he was convicted of five charges involving the sexual abuse of children. Mr Watt was also made subject to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.


On sentencing, Lord Braid said: 

"John Watt, at the High Court in Glasgow on 5 July 2022, you were convicted by the jury of five charges involving the sexual abuse of children. I will not repeat the detail of your offending at length, but, in summary, charges 1 and 2 involved the rape and other vile sexual abuse, on a single occasion, of your victim, who was taken to you for that very purpose. Her precise age at the time was not entirely clear on the evidence but on any view she was under 12 years of age.  Charges 3 and 4 involved the sexual abuse of two young girls, then aged about 7 and 10 respectively, in their own beds. You had been invited into their home by their parents and those offences therefore involved a breach of trust. It is unclear whether that offending was opportunistic or also involved a degree of planning, given that you were often in the parents’ home.  Charge 5 was the rape of a 10 year old boy who, on his evidence, which the jury must have accepted, had been left in your overnight care by his parents. As such that offence involved a gross breach of trust. 

"You appear for sentence as a 72 year old man.  At the time of the offending, which took place over about a ten year period, or slightly longer, in the 1970s and 1980s, you would have been in your mid-twenties to late thirties. You have no previous convictions. After committing the offences, three of which were committed at a time when you held the office of advocate, you attained the rank of Queens Counsel. Indeed, in your role as an Advocate Depute you prosecuted the very type of offence of which you have now been convicted. As such you must be well aware of the gravity of such offences and the impact on victims.

"In that regard, I have victim statements from the complainers in each of the first four charges, which speak eloquently of the lasting impact and harm your offending has had on each of them. In saying that, I acknowledge that it is apparent that not all of the troubles of the victim in charges 1 and 2 can be laid solely at your door, although your offending must have materially contributed to those troubles. 

"I have the benefit of a Criminal Justice Social Work Report on your circumstances. This reveals, as was confirmed by your senior counsel, that you maintain your denial of guilt. Perhaps that explains why you have not demonstrated any remorse, nor empathy towards your victims. You appear to be in good general health. Based at least partly on your age, you are presently assessed as presenting a low risk of reoffending.

"I have taken into account all of the foregoing, in addition to what was said in mitigation on your behalf by your senior counsel, including what was said about your state of health and the effect of imprisonment on you.

"In deciding on the appropriate sentence, my first task is to assess the gravity of the offending, which also involves consideration of the harm caused. The offences committed by you were of the utmost seriousness and depravity and were part of a course of conduct spanning more than ten years.  The offences are aggravated by involving an abuse of trust, and in the case of at least charges 1 and 2, some degree of planning. In each case, the offences have had a profound and lifelong effect on the victims. The principal sentencing aims in this case are punishment and deterrence. 

"In all the circumstances I have decided that the appropriate headline sentence is one of 11 years imprisonment. Prior to your remand on 5 July 2022, you had been held in custody, here and in the United States, for a total of 192 days. It is not known when or if you will be considered suitable for release by the Parole Board. However, I will take the period of remand into account by deducting one year from the headline sentence, resulting in a cumulo custodial sentence – that is, one which covers all five charges  –  of 10 years imprisonment. This will be backdated to 5 July 2022.

"Finally in consequence of this sentence you will be subject to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for an indeterminate period."