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HMA v John Stewart Blyth


Apr 12, 2024

At the High Court in Glasgow, Lord Harrower sentenced John Blyth to life imprisonment after the offender was convicted of murder. Lord Harrower set the punishment part at 13 years.

On sentencing Lord Harrower made the folllowing remarks in court:

"John Stewart Blyth, you have been found guilty of the murder of Paul Smith. 

At the beginning of January 2021, Mr Smith had been staying with you at your flat in Craigmillar Court in Edinburgh.  He was a friend, or at least an acquaintance.  At some point in the early hours of 6 January 2021, the two of you got into an argument.  This may have had something to do with money, or possibly a drug debt, but the reasons for the argument were never really clarified in evidence, and are perhaps unimportant in the light of what happened next.  For what is clear is that some sort of altercation took place, during which you struck Mr Smith at least twice with a kitchen knife.  On post mortem examination, Mr Smith had incised wounds across the bridge of his nose and under his left eye, possibly caused by a single blow to the face.  He had a further stabbed wound to the left side of his neck, 2.7cm in length and 3cm deep.  You had no injuries.  The jury rejected your plea of self-defence. 

It seems that, immediately after the incident, you may have assisted Mr Smith, by providing him with a tissue to hold against the neck wound, and absorb some of the blood.  Mr Smith then left the flat on his own, carrying his belongings, and drove himself to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.  Later that morning, he was transferred to St John’s Hospital, where he was seen by ear nose and throat specialists.  According to the surgeon, the wound was not in itself life-threatening, and that, had it not been for Mr Smith’s other conditions, he would have been stitched up and sent home.

Mr Smith’s “other conditions” included a rare disease of the blood vessels, called Takuyasu’s disease, from which he had been suffering since at least 2013.  Takuyasu’s disease causes a build up of plaques and inflammation, and a narrowing of the arteries, as a result of which the body’s major organs are not supplied with the oxygen they require.  At the time of his death, Mr Smith’s brain was being served by one blood vessel instead of four.  And he had been left with a weak heart muscle.  As the St John’s cardiologist put it, Mr Smith’s cardiovascular status was on a “knife edge”.  Any upset to that status – including as a result of stress, trauma, or any treatment given - might have resulted in a reduction in the blood supply to his brain.  Unfortunately, Mr Smith’s condition deteriorated over the next days, and on 10 January 2021, he died.  The pathologists recorded the cause of death as “multi-organ failure with hypoxic/ischaemic brain injury”, contributed to by, among other things, “complications of sharp force injuries [to the] neck”. 

By their verdict, Mr Blyth, the jury must have been satisfied, not only that the stab wound killed Mr Smith, or at least contributed to his demise, but that you inflicted it with the intention of killing him, or at least with such wicked recklessness that you were indifferent to his fate.   In relation to the charge of murder, there is only one sentence that I may lawfully impose, that of life imprisonment.  For the purposes of retribution and deterrence, I am required to fix the punishment part of your sentence.  This does not mean that you will be released automatically at the end of that period; it simply means that until that period has elapsed you cannot ask to be considered for parole. Even after the period comes to an end, your date of release (if any) will depend on the view that the Parole Board take of the risks to public safety which you pose when it considers your case. 

I have taken account of everything said on your behalf by Mr Meehan.  In particular, I accept that this was not a sustained murderous attack.  I accept that there does not appear to have been any significant element of planning in the circumstances in which you committed this assault.  I also accept that you do not have a history of violent offending on anything like this scale. Your record discloses a number of convictions for relatively minor offences, mainly of dishonesty, occasionally for assault, and all at summary level.  The most recent of these offences is over 15 years old.  None of them involves the use of a weapon, or even the carrying of one in a public place.  And the longest prison sentence you have previously received is one of 5 months. 

According to the CJSWR, you stated that, although you were sorry that Mr Smith died, you felt no remorse.  That is at least consistent with the position you adopted at trial that you were acting in self-defence.  However, you are also reported as having denied inflicting any wound to Mr Smith’s neck, admitting only to having “slashed” his shoulder.  And you appear to have suggested that Mr Smith was going to die imminently anyway, as if this should somehow be regarded as a mitigating factor.  If anything, the fact that you knew that he was in very poor health might be regarded as an aggravation.

Following your conviction, I mentioned that members of Mr Smith’s family had provided the court with a very moving statement, in which they expressed the hope that you would be able to get the help you need, and take this opportunity to become a better person.  While no sentence of this court can make good the family’s loss, it can take account of their compassion.  In the whole circumstances, I sentence you to life imprisonment, backdated to when you were first remanded in custody on 15 March 2024.  The punishment part of your sentence will be 13 years.”

 12 April 2024