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Aaron Campbell's punishment term reduced in view of youth

11 September 2019

The teenager who committed the brutal abduction, sexual assault and rape of a six year old girl has had his minimum custodial term reduced by the Criminal Appeal Court, on the grounds of his youth.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, Lord Menzies and Lord Drummond Young allowed the appeal against sentence of Aaron Campbell to the extent of reducing from 27 years to 24 the punishment part of his sentence of detention without limit of time, while emphasising that it might still be the case that he will never be released.

The appellant, when aged 16, had seized a sleeping child, who was not known to him, from her grandparents' flat on the Isle of Bute, subjected her to "extremely brutal sexual assaults of the utmost degeneracy, committed whilst the child was alive, and causing very significant injury and pain", before killing her through "significant, forceful pressure to her neck and face". He had given a forensic psychiatrist a "chilling account" of how he killed her, stating it "resulted from his alcohol misuse and his curiosity and desire to experience how it would feel to kill someone".

The trial judge considered that the psychiatrist's assessment placed the appellant in the rare category of the juvenile offender whose crime reflected irreparable corruption, and that in his case rehabilitation and reintegration were forlorn hopes, to the prospect of which he could attach no weight in the unusual circumstances.

Giving the decision of the Appeal Court, Lady Dorrian acknowledged that the trial judge had understood that what he required to do was to select a sentence reflecting only the requirements of retribution and deterrence and that anything else was a matter for the Parole Board. However the court had "reached the conclusion that the detailed information suggesting the extent to which the appellant is likely to present a future risk..., coupled with the appalling nature of the crime and the bleak prospects for change, led the trial judge to make inadequate allowance for the mitigatory effect of youth, even in such a shocking offence as the present".

While he had concluded that reintegration and rehabilitation were at best “remote possibilities”, there was a difference between something which was a remote possibility and something which was an inevitable impossibility, Lady Dorrian observed. The experts who had reported made specific reference to the difficulty in properly diagnosing psychopathy, and predicting the extent of capacity for change, in one so young. 

In a case such as the present, the factors that would normally distinguish the position of child from adult offenders "require to be examined not from the standpoint of the risk the individual may present, but so that, where appropriate, the court may ensure that the sentence imposed properly allows for the process of maturation, with the possibility of the development of responsibility and the growth of a healthy adult personality".

She concluded: "The likelihood for change in the appellant may indeed be limited, but on the basis of the expert material we do not think that it is possible entirely to rule out any residual capacity for change in such a young individual, notwithstanding the atrocious nature of his crime. We accept that there is merit in the submission of senior counsel for the appellant that a determination of irreparable corruption is not one which can or should be made by the court at this stage, but is a question for the Parole Board in due course. Accordingly we consider that the trial judge erred in classifying the appellant as falling into this category and that he underestimated the mitigatory effect of the appellant’s youth, and that the punishment part selected was excessive."

After considering other cases, the court ruled that a punishment part in excess of 20 years was "plainly merited", and that 24 years would be appropriate to reflect the appellant's youth. 

Lady Dorrian however added: "As with all punishment parts, this is not an indication of the date when the appellant will be released. It specifies rather the period which must pass before the appellant may even apply for parole. As the trial judge had observed, and as was recognised by counsel for the appellant..., 'whether [the appellant] will ever be released will be
for others to determine but as matters stand a lot of work will have to be done to change [the appellant] before that could be considered. It may even be impossible'."

Click here to view the opinion of the court.

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