Scotsman | 5 Jan 2010 |
A YOUTH who murdered his girlfriend by soaking her in petrol and then setting her alight was ordered yesterday to serve at least 21 years’ detention, in one of the first tests of Scotland’s new, tougher sentencing regime for killers…
Jessica and Blackburn had been in a relationship for some time, but, on the night of her death in April last year, she had told friends at a party she was leaving him.
On their way home to his flat in Arbroath, Blackburn – described as being “legless” through drink – pushed her into a hedge and punched her.
The row continued in the flat, and Blackburn claimed petrol had spilled on to Jessica and was ignited by a burning flake from a cannabis joint. The petrol had been in the flat because he had been repairing a motorbike and had drained the fuel tank, he claimed.
However, the jury at Blackburn’s trial last month rejected his version, which would have allowed him to be convicted of the lesser crime of culpable homicide and to have received a lighter sentence. He was convicted of murder, by deliberately dousing her and a bed with petrol and setting them alight.
Lord Bracadale told Blackburn that a sentence of detention for life was mandatory for murder. Also, the judge had to set the minimum term which Blackburn would have to serve before he could be considered for parole.
Lord Bracadale said Blackburn had threatened on an earlier occasion to use petrol to torch the home of Jessica’s parents while she was staying there. During the preparation of background sentencing reports, Blackburn also admitted that, aged 13, he threw a petrol bomb at a house because of a fall-out with the occupant.
He had a previous conviction for assault since becoming an adult, and a history of violence as a child.
“The evidence disclosed that there were three stages in the murder of Jessica McCagh,” said Lord Bracadale. “First, you threw petrol over her. Then you set fire to her. The expert evidence made it clear that that was a more difficult thing to do than many of us would have thought, and must have involved holding a naked flame at her or the bedclothes in order to set her alight.
“Once she was a alight, you did something of quite extraordinary cruelty – you held the door of the bedroom shut to prevent her escape. Jessica McCagh was your girlfriend, aged 17 years, and she died a terrible death at your hands.”
The judge said the crime’s level of wickedness had to mean a long minimum term, which he set at 21 years.
The jury had heard that Blackburn fled the flat, shouting: “Jessica’s dead.” He went to her parents’ home and repeated to them that she was dead. His neighbour, Mr Foreman, tried to save Jessica and threw water from a fishtank over her but the flames kept reigniting.
He got her out of the flat as her father arrived on the scene. She had suffered fourth-degree burns which affected more than 85 per cent of her body.
Jessica died in hospital later that day. More than 400 people attended her funeral.
An angry mob of about 200 gathered outside Arbroath Sheriff Court when Blackburn was due to make his first appearance on the murder charge. The hearing was moved to a police station. The prosecutor at Blackburn’s trial, Frank Mulholland, QC, the solicitor-general, said of the murder: “It is difficult to envisage more cruel or sadistic treatment of another human being.”
Blackburn was from Dundee and spent much of his childhood in foster care. He subsequently moved to a small flat in Arbroath and often smoked cannabis there with other teenagers.
He has previous convictions for housebreaking and assaulting Jessica’s father.
Jessica – the youngest of five daughters – had gone out with Blackburn since she was 15.