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HMA v Colin McGhee


Nov 30, 2023

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, Lord Scott sentenced Colin McGhee to 5 years and 10 months in prison after the offender admitted endangering the lives of the occupants of a block of flats through wilful fireraising.

On sentencing, Lord Scott told McGhee:

“You have pled guilty to a charge that, while acting with another whose identity is unknown, you wilfully set fire to a flat at Kincaid Court, Greenock, threw a bottle containing petrol, diesel and lit paper, commonly known as a petrol bomb, at a window, smashed a window using a brick, threw a fuel can containing petrol and other accelerant into a bedroom there and set fire to said accelerants whereby the fire took effect thereon and this you did to the danger of the life of Craig McFarlane and to the occupants of the other flats at 8 Kincaid Court, Greenock.

You were on bail at the time of the offence.

Before passing sentence, I ordered a Criminal Justice Social Work Report to provide me with more information about you and your background, and to assist me in identifying the appropriate sentence, albeit, as rightly acknowledged by your Senior Counsel when you tendered the plea of guilty, a lengthy custodial sentence is inevitable due to the very serious nature of the charge which involved determined efforts to set a fire at the property.

On the last occasion, I saw the brief footage of your crime and heard a full plea in mitigation from Mr Findlay. Today, Miss Young has assisted me by going over some of what is contained in the CJSWR.

The CJSWR provides me with background information about you. It confirms your progress on a Community Payback Order imposed on 2 March of this year.

It repeats the explanation offered on the last occasion by Mr Findlay as to how you became involved in this serious offence. It says that you acted as you did to frighten Mr McFarlane in response to threats made to you and your family.

The report tells me that you were using a lot of cocaine and illicit Valium at the time of the offence. As I am sure you know, that offers no excuse or mitigation for what you did.

Importantly, the report confirms that you accept full responsibility for what you did. You appear to realise how dangerous what you did was and to have expressed genuine remorse.

You suffered in your childhood through witnessing abuse and some of the effects of addiction. At the age of 9, you also saw your father being shot which was obviously a traumatic incident.

It appears that you understand that you need to refocus your life towards your own family and away from your own criminal behaviour and some of the pernicious patterns of the past. You have been taking steps to address your own addiction issues.

There are some encouraging signs. The author of the report has been impressed by your insight into your previous lifestyle and poor choices. You have been making efforts to distance yourself from some of what led you to where you stand today.

I commend you on your progress. I hope that you use your time in custody to continue with your efforts to make sure you stay out of trouble upon your release and return to your family still able to support them.

You have 3 previous convictions in the schedule placed before me but 2 are minor road traffic matters and I attach no weight to any of them. The CJSWR discloses the further conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to supply. That offence was apparently committed just a few weeks after the present offence. You were placed on an 18 month CPO for that and so it is clearly more serious. However, it is not directly analogous and you have never before been sentenced to custody.

I have considered and take into account the terms of the CJSWR and all that was carefully said on your behalf on the last occasion by Mr Findlay and by Miss Young today in pleas in mitigation.  They emphasised your relief at the lack of more serious consequences of your actions as well as your remorse.  Mr Findlay pointed out the lack of guile in what you did, using your own car and taking your own mobile phone with you. It was perhaps because of your apparent lack of competence and cunning that you went back to the flat when your first effort at fireraising failed. This undoubtedly makes the matter more serious.

Having displayed an astonishing level of recklessness towards the safety of others, you have expressed what I accept to be genuine remorse and have had the sense to listen to Mr Findlay and your legal team about arranging a plea of guilty.  Mr Findlay rightly emphasised your early plea of guilty which is a significant aspect of mitigation.

Having regard to the whole circumstances of the case, in particular the gravity of the charge, only a custodial sentence is appropriate.  It is necessary to punish you and to seek to deter you and others from behaving in this way and in particular to protect the public from you.

If you had been convicted after trial, I would have imposed a sentence of 6 years 6 months imprisonment, with 3 months attributable to the bail aggravation.

You pled guilty without the need for a trial in the same terms offered by you over a year ago. I must and will recognise that in the sentence I impose, albeit noting that even your earlier offer was not made at a particularly early opportunity, coming, as it did, just before the second dedicated floating trial. I must and do recognise that there is nonetheless some utilitarian value - that is primarily that there was a saving of court time - and I will therefore reduce the custodial term of 6 years 6 months by approximately 10%. The custodial term will therefore be 5 years 10 months imprisonment.

You spent a period of 298 days on remand before being released on bail. I must take that period into account and will do so by backdating the sentence to 5 February 2023.”