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HMA v Rhys Bennett


May 24, 2023

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, Lord Arthurson sentenced Rhys Bennett to life imprisonment after the offender pled guilty to the rape and murder of Jill Barclay. Lord Arthurson set the punishment part at 24 years, this is the number of years someone must serve before they can be considered for release on life licence.

On sentencing Lord Arthurson made the following remarks in court:

"Rhys Bennett, you have, under accelerated section 76 procedure, tendered a plea of guilty this morning to a composite charge containing the two gravest crimes known to the law of Scotland.

The court has heard the quite horrific narrative of your conduct towards Jill Louise Barclay in the early hours of 17 September 2022 in the grounds of certain derelict residential premises at Farburn Gatehouse, Dyce.  I do not propose to re‑traumatise the family of Ms Barclay by rehearsing at any length the shocking details of these events, but address them I must.

Ms Barclay was a stranger to you.  You followed her in the direction of the locus.  There you waited or hid yourself from her view.  You then proceeded to launch a murderous attack upon her, an attack which, upon the carefully reconstructed evidence available, plainly involved extreme, sustained and frankly feral violence inflicted by you upon her.  In the course of this you raped Ms Barclay.  You inflicted multiple blunt force trauma injuries to her head, causing external bruising and lacerations, nose fractures, scalp haemorrhages, a linear skull fracture, a subdural haemorrhage and a subarachnoid haemorrhage.  Some facial injuries exhibited clean cut margins suggestive of the use of a sharp instrument, being either a knife or an improvised weapon.  You attacked her at various sites within the locus.  You kicked and stamped on her head and body, struck her head against a downpipe, compressed her neck and dragged her along the ground.

You then returned to your accommodation, gathered your belongings and drove your work van back to the locus.  You attempted to move Ms Barclay, by then heavily bleeding, into the van.

You moved her to the pathway at the side of the Gatehouse.  The extent of blood impact spatter staining at an iron gate indicate that this was the site of your final assault upon her, by way of further kicks, stamps or strikes.  You returned to the van, retrieved a green jerry can containing petrol and used this as an accelerant to set fire to Ms Barclay, having deliberately doused items including clothing worn by you in petrol and placed these under Ms Barclay as she lay on the ground in an effort to conceal the evidence of your crimes.  The available evidence tells the horrible truth that your victim was still living at the time that the fire was set.  To be crystal clear: you burned her alive.

Finally, as detailed in the agreed narrative and in charge two of this indictment, you then fled the scene, drove to Fife and proceeded to wash clothing worn by you during these events, all in an attempt to defeat the ends of justice.

Jill Barclay was a 47 year old lady, beloved by her partner of 20 years, her two young children, aged 6 and 8 and her mother.  She lived a full and active life.  By way of your criminal behaviour in this case, you took away her future and the hopes and dreams of her wider family.  Their lives will never be the same.  I have read most moving and articulate impact statements prepared by Ms Barclay’s partner, her elder child and by her mother and aunt. Nothing that this court can do, or I can say today, will ever compensate this family for their loss, and I fully understand that no sentence of the court could perhaps ever be sufficient in their eyes.

I have read carefully the reports prepared in respect of you, one by Dr Forrest, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, dated 26 September 2022, and another by Mr Forrester, an autism spectrum consultant, dated 27 March 2023.  Both diagnose autism spectrum disorder.  Both conclude that your ability to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of what you did was unimpaired.

I have additionally listened this morning with attention to the submissions advanced in mitigation on your behalf by your senior counsel, and propose to take everything that he has said into account in determining the final terms of the court’s disposal on this indictment.  I note in particular the information provided in respect of your personal and employment background and your autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.  I also note what has been said regarding your age now, that is 23, and your age at the time of these crimes, which was 22, and of course the history of your early plea of guilty. I further note your senior counsel’s narration of your position that you will continue to engage in work in a custodial setting to seek to explain why you committed this atrocity, as he put matters, and to ensure that it never happens again.

The sentence for the crime of murder is fixed by law and is one of imprisonment for life.  The court requires as part of the sentencing exercise in such cases to select a period known as the punishment part of that fixed disposal.  The punishment part is the number of years which you must s erve before you can be considered for release on life licence.  You should understand that when the court sets this tariff it is not in any sense 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 actually apply for release.  The punishment part does not take into account the need for public protection.  That very important matter is taken into account by the Parole Board for Scotland if and when any application is made by you in due course for release.  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 crimes libelled in charge one on this indictment, and the whole circumstances surrounding these crimes, which I have already attempted to summarise.  Those of us working in these courts are well acclimatised to truly dreadful criminal conduct.  Your offending in this case, however, is of an exceptional gravity. On any view, your crimes against Ms Barclay were unimaginably wicked and indeed medieval in their barbarity.

Turning finally, therefore, to disposal, in respect of charge one, the composite charge comprising the crimes of murder and rape, I now pass upon you a sentence of imprisonment for life.  I have determined on the particular facts of this case that the notional headline punishment part of that sentence should sit at a period of 29 years.  Taking into account, as I require to, the circumstances of your early plea and the engaged guidelines for the sentencing of offenders under 25, and approaching these discounting elements on an in cumulo basis, I fix the actual punishment part of your life sentence at a period of 24 years.  On charge two, the charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice, I impose a concurrent determinate sentence of 4 years imprisonment, discounted from a period of 6 years.  These sentences will be backdated to the date of your initial remand into custody in this case, namely 20 September 2022.

In terms of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 I confirm that you have today been convicted of a sexual offence to which part 2 of that Act applies.  You will henceforth, standing the disposal of the court, be subject to the notification requirements set out in that Act for an indefinite period.

The court has certified those facts and the clerk of court will provide you with a copy of that certificate together with a notice containing further details of the notification requirements with which you must comply.

Finally, I now direct the clerk of court to intimate this conviction to Scottish Ministers in terms of section 14 of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007."

24 May 2023