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Scotland's justice system is failing to protect the public with sentences like these

Bungled attempt to murder a man in Cumbernauld leads to an overly lenient sentence that may have fatal consequences

Here's my latest column in today's Scotsman (5th September '23).

Being something of a dog lover, I was drawn to a recent story about the shooting of a dog during a bungled attack on a man in the leafy suburbs of Cumbernauld. The now deceased Henry, a small white terrier, was caught in the crossfire of a murderous attack mounted on a young local man by 27-year-old Reece Govan and 26-year-old Bran Gallacher, both from Glasgow.

In what was clearly a premeditated attack, the pair had gone to some lengths to arm themselves with a shotgun and machete. Then, after lying in wait, they pounced on their victim as he entered his home. The attack clearly lacked some finer points of planning because it ended up with Govan and Gallacher pursuing their target through the streets of Cumbernauld in broad daylight, Govan shooting wildly while Gallacher slashed out with his machete. As people scattered for safety, the unfortunate Henry caught the full blast of Govan’s shotgun, a shot which also injured his owner. Having run out of ammunition and ideas, the pair then made off in their getaway car.

These two thugs planned their assault, armed themselves with deadly weapons, and with reckless disregard, staged a murderous attack in a public place in broad daylight. Only dodgy planning and poor shooting prevented the loss of human life. The unfortunate dog paid the ultimate price, but it could just as easily have been a toddler or a baby in a pram.

For this premeditated attempted murder, using illegally held firearms, Govan was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment while Gallacher was sentenced to six years and three month, both with added community sentences. With the normal discount of half the tariff, they will be out in four and just over three years respectively.

If this seems unduly lenient for such a deliberate and deadly attack, it gets worse. At the time of the attack, Gallacher had only just been released after serving half of a ten-year sentence. Remarkably, Gallacher’s earlier offence, committed when he was still in his teens, was an almost identical assault as his Cumbernauld escapade.

In 2014, Gallacher and another man lay in wait for their victim and then stabbed him to death, before escaping in a prepositioned getaway car. While his co-accused was convicted of murder, Gallacher got ten years for culpable homicide, probably due to his age at the time. Clearly, the prison service’s efforts at rehabilitation failed because immediately following his early release, Gallacher almost immediately became involved in the Cumbernauld attack.

So, in summary, we have Gallacher, a hapless hitman, who by the age of 26 has already been convicted of killing one man and attempting to murder another. For these most serious of crimes, he has served five years in prison, with the prospect of another three.

The function of our criminal justice system is to protect the public, punish and hopefully rehabilitate offenders. In the case of Gallacher, the system has failed so far to protect or rehabilitate. If, in a few years, this homicidal young man comes back onto our streets and kills again, we only have ourselves to blame. We cannot say we have not been warned.

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