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HMA v Kenneth Melville


Jan 24, 2023

At the High Court in Glasgow today, Lord Arthurson sentenced Kenneth Melville to life imprisonment for the murder of his partner Yvonne Barr. The punishment part, the minimum time spent in prison before becoming eligible for parole, was set at 17 years.

On Sentencing, Lord Arthurson said:

"Kenneth Melville, you have this morning tendered a plea of guilty to a charge of the murder of Yvonne Barr, your partner, in Dundee on 5 November 2021.  That charge additionally contains separate aggravations libelled, first in respect of section 1 of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, and, second by reference to the commission of this crime by you while you were on two bail orders.  This is the first time that this indictment has called in court, the preliminary hearing originally scheduled for August 2022 having been postponed administratively on several occasions.

The agreed narrative has just been read in court and I do not propose to rehearse the detailed terms of that lengthy narration.  The charge libels previous malice and ill-will.  You had been in a relationship with your victim for some nine years.  You were both users of controlled drugs.  You had threatened Ms Barr and been violent towards her on multiple prior occasions, which incidents she did not report to the police.  These incidents required on occasion her admission to hospital.  Her injuries included blunt force injuries such as rib fractures, large haematomas to the head and general bruising and swelling on her head and face, including eye injuries and clumps of hair missing. 

As at the date of her death, Ms Barr was aged 47 and used a walking stick and zimmer frame.  She had been allocated accommodation in Dundee by Scottish Women’s Aid.  She was on any view a vulnerable person.  She is survived by her parents, her brother and her son. I have read her mother’s very moving impact statement this morning.

At 4pm on 4 November 2021 Ms Barr returned to her own tenancy at the locus.  You arrived there after various comings and goings at 2am on 5 November 2021.  At 3.26am Ms Barr sent several text messages to the work phone of a Scottish Women’s Aid worker.  In the early hours of 5 November 2021 you assaulted and murdered Ms Barr.  Prior to that fatal attack, you had taken crack cocaine, heroin and street valium.  On your own account you placed your hands round her neck and compressed it.  You do not recall the application of violence in this action and it is agreed that this is not part of any mechanism leading to injury. You seized her hair, punched and kicked her and inflicted blunt trauma upon her head and body.  Paramedics arrived at the flat at 5.52am.  They noted that you showed no emotion in respect of Ms Barr.  They observed that she had sustained significant face and head injuries including swollen and bruised eyes and ears.  There was an open wound to the back of her head.  Blood and cerebral spinal fluid was coming from her ears.  There was swelling to her throat and her airway appeared to be displaced to her right.  She was unconscious and was not breathing.  She was transferred to Ninewells Hospital by ambulance and was pronounced dead at 2.30pm.

As a result of your savage and murderous attack upon her, Ms Barr sustained unsurvivable brain damage.  She suffered an acute bilateral subdural haematoma and subarachnoid haemorrhage together with cerebral oedema and a diffuse traumatic axonal injury to the brain.  Her nasal bones were fractured.  The thyroid cartilage in the neck was also fractured, and there was a fracture of the spinous processes of two of the bones in her neck.  There were additionally multiple rib fractures, which could have been related to resuscitation attempts, together with a spiral fracture along the shaft of the left thigh bone, caused by you.  Death was attributed to the combined effects of blunt force head and neck injuries.  Forensic examination of the bedroom in which you attacked your victim disclosed the presence of widespread blood staining and impact blood spatter spots on furniture and under a window.  Clumps of her hair were found in various locations in the flat. 

You are now aged 59.  You have to date accrued seven groups of previous convictions.  You have never before received a custodial sentence.  Only one of your previous convictions is domestically aggravated.  I have listened carefully to the submissions advanced on your behalf this morning by your senior counsel I note in particular what he has said concerning your prior employment as a printer; the arrival by you late in life into a drug-culture environment; your age and limited summary level criminal record; your participation in resuscitation attempts; and the resolution of this case by early plea and the apology which you have instructed your senior counsel to tender on your behalf.

The sentence for the crime of murder is fixed by law and is one of imprisonment for life.  The court also requires to impose as part of the sentencing exercise a period known as the punishment part of that disposal.  The punishment part is the number of years which you must serve before you can be considered for release on licence.  You must understand that when the court sets this tariff it is not appointing the time when you will be released; instead, the court is fixing the number of years which must be served by you before you can apply for release.  The punishment part does not take into account the need for public protection.  That very important matter is taken into account if and when any application is made by you in due course for your release on licence.  The punishment part does, however, take into account the sentencing requirements of retribution and deterrence. 

In selecting an appropriate punishment part in your case I take principally into account the gravity of the offence before the court.  While under the influence of a cocktail of illegal drugs, you brutally assaulted a vulnerable person, your partner, in her own tenancy, punching and kicking her head and body, and inflicting blunt trauma upon her head and body of such severity that she was unable to survive the consequent catastrophic head and neck injuries thereby visited upon her by you.  The crime of murder in this case further took place against a background of truly appalling domestic violence which occurred over a prolonged period of months. I further take into account your age, your very limited record and the responsibility which you have taken for your crime by way of an early resolution of these proceedings.

Turning finally, therefore, to disposal on charge four on this indictment, namely the charge of murder, I now accordingly pass a sentence upon you of imprisonment for life.  The punishment part of that sentence will be fixed at a period of 17 years. I attribute one year of that period to the aggravation libelled under the 2016 Act. I  make no additional or separate attribution, however, in respect of the bail aggravations. But for your plea of guilty, tendered today at this postponed preliminary hearing, the first calling of this case in this court, the punishment part period imposed would have been one of 20 years.  This sentence will be backdated to 8 November 2021, being the date of your initial remand into custody in these proceedings."