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HMA v Christopher McGowan


Oct 25, 2023

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, Judge MG O’Grady sentenced Christopher McGowan to life with a minimum period in custody of 23 years for the murder of Claire Inglis. McGowan had previously been found guilty following a trial.

On sentencing, Judge O’Grady said:

“As you know, the jury having convicted you of the crime of murder, by law there is only one sentence I can impose and that is one of life imprisonment.

The nature of that sentence is much misunderstood and so it is perhaps appropriate for me at this stage to make clear its mechanics and consequences, so that you and others with an interest fully understand them.

The role of the Judge in imposing a sentence of life imprisonment is limited by law to fixing what is known as the 'punishment part' of the sentence.

The punishment part which I will fix today is not to be taken as the length of the sentence which you will serve before release. It is no more than the fixing of the minimum period you will serve before you can apply for parole. It should be understood that it is not necessarily the period you will actually serve before being granted parole. It is commonplace for life prisoners to serve a significantly longer period than the punishment part before being granted parole.

The issue of when – if ever you are released is not a matter for this court. It is a matter for the Parole Board to assess in due course whether it is safe and in the public interest that you be released at all.

Let me emphasise those words 'if ever'. I cannot anticipate what the Board will do many years hence nor bind it in any way. But you and others should understand that it is at least possible, depending upon its considered view, that you may never be released.

And so the punishment part which I impose today is only one element of that equation.

Let me turn now to that punishment part.

In fixing it, I am bound to have regard to certain aspects of the offence and the offender.

The first, and most obvious, is that in fixing the punishment part I have to reflect the nature of the crime.

To those who have not listened to the evidence in this trial, it is difficult to truly convey the utter brutality of the death you inflicted on Claire Inglis. By the time her broken and lifeless body was found, she had no fewer than 76 separate sites of injury. There is no need for me to dwell on the detail; there are those present today who have already heard too much to bear.

The fact is, this young woman was not only murdered; she was subjected to nothing short of torture. I shudder to imagine what her last minutes were like. To describe what you did as sadistic falls woefully short of the mark. It was beyond sadistic.

All of that will require to be reflected in sentence.

Such brutality has, of course, profound consequences.

The consequences for Claire are self-evident. Her life is ended in pain and terror at the age of 28.

But there are others who remain who have also been robbed of the future they could have reasonably have expected. Because if she was a young woman of 28, she was also a young daughter and friend of 28 and – perhaps cruellest of all – a young mother of 28. Those who gave her life, and to whom she in turn gave life, will now have the anguish of living without her and the dreadful pain of knowing how she died. I have in particular mind the Victim Impact Statement of her young son who now spends each day lonely, bereft and bewildered, unable to make sense of why he must grow up without his mother.

I also have to consider your personal history and circumstances.

You already have a long record of offending, beginning some 14 years ago. It comprises of some 39 previous convictions and displays what may reasonably be described as an abiding predilection for disorder and violence, some of it significant violence.

I further have to take into account your attitude towards the appalling crime you have committed. The background Report which I have before me - remarkably - suggests that you accept full responsibility and that during interview you showed remorse and regret. Let me deal with that. It is clear that you accept no responsibility. Indeed in interview you have gone to great lengths to minimise and deny your responsibility for Claire's death.

And as for your remorse and regret, I have watched you carefully throughout these proceedings. Even in the face of the most graphic and distressing evidence, you have shown not a flicker of emotion, not a hint of distress, not a shadow of remorse. Indeed, in the course of interview you provided the author of the Report with a lengthy and detailed account of events that night, which account the evidence has shown is a self-serving tissue of lies and a grotesque distortion of the awful truth of what you did. It is that dishonesty which is the true measure of your remorse. As for the tears you shed at interview, I have no doubt they were shed for none but yourself.

It is often said in these courts – because it is always true – that no sentence a Judge can impose can truly reflect the taking of a life. It cannot bring back one who is lost, or change the past, or turn back time. All it can do is, in some measure, punish the perpetrator and mark the horror and despair that all right minded people feel when forced to confront the evil done by such as you.”

25 October 2023