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HMA v Jonathon Bell


Jul 31, 2023

At the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Scott sentenced Jonathon Bell to a minimum period of 18 years in prison after the offender was found guilty of murder.

On sentencing, Lord Scott said:

“You have been found guilty of the brutal murder of James Johnstone on 17 April 2021, a little over 2 years ago.  In convicting you, the jury rejected any suggestion of you having acted in self‑defence which was your main position in evidence at trial along with an incredible claim of accidentally inflicting one of the most serious wounds.  The murder involved repeated blows with a knife, a weapon it appears that you brought to Mr Johnstone’s house.  You inflicted 15 separate sharp force injuries, 11 of which were stab wounds, including 3 which caused through and through injuries, that is entry and exit wounds in different parts of his body.

There are 2 Victim Impact Statement in this case, prepared by James Johnstone’s son and his sister.  His sister’s statement also gives me information about the impact on Mr Johnstone’s mother.  I understand that they and other members of Mr Johnstone’s family have attended here today.  I am grateful to them for sharing their grief and loss with me through these statements.  They have helped to give a wider view of Mr Johnstone than that available in a trial solely concerned with his murder.  Whatever the role of drugs in his life, it appears that he was a vulnerable individual who was preyed on by others at times.

It is clear that there has been a significant and lasting impact on Mr Johnstone’s family.  They have suffered in many ways, from aspects of smaller daily routines to the permanent hole left by his loss.  Nothing said or done here today, and no sentence I impose will be enough to help Mr Johnstone’s family with the devastating loss of a much loved son, brother and father.

Before passing sentence, I asked for a Criminal Justice Social Work Report.  This was with a view to finding out more about your background and any other information relevant to your previous offending.  I have now read that report and what it says about the childhood trauma you suffered.

I note that you maintained a similar position in interview with the author of the CJSW report as you did in your evidence which involves you accepting no meaningful responsibility for what happened.

I have seen the 2 psychiatric reports by Dr Bett dated 15 May 2023 and Dr Khan dated 24 May 2023.  I note that you suffer from mental illness, in particular schizophrenia and that you have been treated with anti‑psychotic medication as well as medication for depression and anxiety.  Some of your mental health problems appear to relate to your long‑term drug use which may in turn be related to your childhood trauma.  Nonetheless, you are criminally responsible for what you did on 17 April 2021.

Despite having heard all the evidence in this case, including yours, the full detail of what happened on 17 April 2021 remains unclear.  No doubt this is due, in whole or part, to the central role of drugs which may have obliterated memories or obscured the truth.  The jury rejected key parts of what you said which appear to be only a selective and partial version of the whole picture.  It may be that, due to excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs, even you have lost the full picture.  Indeed, you claimed in evidence not to recall having visited James Johnstone on your own earlier the same day, perhaps because that visit represented another inconvenient obstacle to the untruthful version of events you sought to have the jury accept.

I make clear that your willing consumption of drink and drugs does not assist you or mitigate what you did in any way at all.  A person who willingly becomes intoxicated is just as responsible as a sober person for any crimes they commit.

You have five previous convictions, all at summary level, and have not previously been sentenced to imprisonment.  I note, however, the conviction from 3 November 2011 relating to possession of a knife.  This is not without significance although I attach no great weight to it in the circumstances outlined to me.

I have considered all that is said in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report, the 2 psychiatric reports and all that has been carefully said on your behalf by Mr Ross.  I take into account also the violent nature of this murder and your offending history.

In the circumstances and as required by law, I sentence you to life imprisonment and specify a punishment part of 18 years.  The punishment part will run from 19 April 2021.  You should understand that this is not a sentence of 18 years imprisonment – 18 years is the minimum period of time you will have to serve before you can be considered for parole.  Whether, and if so, when, you are released will be a matter for the Parole Board to determine after that 18 year period and will be decided on the basis of the risk you are assessed to pose at that time.”

31 July 2023