Glasgow & West Scotland

Murdered woman's family in whole life sentence plea

Isabelle Sanders Image copyright BBC - police handout
Image caption Isabelle Sanders died after suffering 37 stab wounds

The family of a woman murdered by a violent re-offender have called on MSPs to allow judges to use whole of life sentences.

Isabelle Sanders was stabbed 37 times by Paul McManus during a robbery at her home in Glasgow last year.

The 20-year-old was told he must serve a minimum of 26 years in prison before he can apply for parole

Holyrood's petitions committee said it will ask the Scottish government to consider the issue.

McManus forced his way into Ms Sanders' home in Crookston on 9 April 2014, attacking the 51-year-old and her partner Norman Busby, 86.

He was jailed for a minimum of 21 years for murder and 14 years for the attempted murder and two other robbery-related stabbings.

Image copyright Spindrift
Image caption Paul McManus was convicted of murdering Isabel Sanders at her home in Crookston

During the trial it emerged McManus had a "significant" criminal record, which included convictions for theft, assault and robbery and the use of weapons, and had been released from serving a previous sentence five weeks before the murder.

At the moment, the charge of murder is required by law to carry a mandatory life sentence, made up of a minimum jail term and an indeterminate period during which the prisoner remains in custody if necessary for the protection of the public.

James Dougall, Ms Sanders' brother, told the committee statistics show about 5% of life prisoners who are released by the parole board go on to reoffend.

Public protection

He said: "The offender received a minimum sentence of 26 years. He was 19 when the offence occurred and will be released when he's 45 - assuming that he gets through the parole board - the same age as me. In fact, six years younger than Isabelle when she was murdered in her own home.

"This individual has already been given the opportunity to reform, how can you be sure, if we do release him, that he won't offend again? How can we be sure that he is not one of the 5%?"

Mr Dougall suggested Scotland follows the English sentencing model which allows judges to impose whole life sentences, and provides guidelines when this may be appropriate.

Scots law already allows the minimum period of custody set by a judge to exceed the prisoner's life expectancy, but this must be specified in years and months.

Mr Dougall told MSPs the only case he could find where this had been applied was that of Angus Sinclair, who was convicted of the 1977 World's End murders of teenagers Christine Eadie and Helen Scott in 2014.

Sentenced to a minimum prison term of 37 years, Sinclair would be 106 years old before being eligible for parole.

Guidelines

MSPs agreed to write to the Scottish government to ask if the issue could be considered by the new Scottish Sentencing Council.

The council is due to be established by October this year to provide clear sentencing guidelines for Scotland.

They also said they would write to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson to establish how often a sentence which was manifestly longer than the offender's life expectancy had been imposed by judges.

Speaking after the evidence session, Mr Dougall said the family's campaign has public backing, with almost 1,000 signatures supporting the petition, and support from social media.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "Scottish courts have the power to impose the equivalent of a whole life tariff in any given case.

"The independence of Scotland's judiciary is a fundamental part of the Scottish legal system. As such, sentencing is a matter for judges who operate independently of Scottish ministers and it is for our courts to decide what sentence to impose in each case before them.

"The Scottish government has previously announced the creation of a specific Scottish Sentencing Council which will promote consistency and transparency around sentencing and encourage better understanding of sentences across Scotland, as well as producing sentencing guidelines for the judiciary."

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