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HMA v John Farrell


Feb 5, 2021

At the High Court in Edinburgh today Lord Beckett imposed an Order for Lifelong Restriction with a punishment part of 2 years and 11 months on John Farrell after the accused pleaded guilty to 10 charges involving robbery and threatening behaviour.

On sentencing, Lord Beckett made the following statement in court:

“I take account of what has been said on your behalf and the content of all of the reports before me. It is plain that you had a difficult childhood but you are now in your thirties. I recognise that this is your first appearance in the High Court. You pled guilty at a continued preliminary hearing and I make some allowance for that. Whilst you committed these offences whilst subject to early release, I will not make a section 16 return order.

Your drug problem is not an excuse for the commission of these crimes. However drug use is undoubtedly ruining your life and you would be well advised to use your time in prison constructively by desisting from drug abuse, stopping taking drugs, and accepting the supports available to you.

You have an extensive record of previous convictions mostly for dishonesty, disorder and violence. You have been convicted of assault on a number of occasions and your most serious convictions were on sheriff court indictment in 2015 for assault and robbery and 2016 for robbery which attracted sentences of 18 and 20 months respectively.

You now appear on a large number of offences, in keeping with the character of what has gone before.

Charges 7 and 9 were particularly mean crimes committed against elderly people, in each case aged 81 who you tricked and stole from. On those charges, you will go to prison for 20 months, backdated to 21 November 2019. But for your pleas of guilty it would have been 2 years.

On charges 3, 12 and 14, a sentence of 6 months is reduced to 5 months for your plea of guilty. It will be served consecutively to the sentence on charges 7 and 9.

On charge 17, again this was a very alarming incident for the householder and it merits separate punishment. A sentence of 12 months is reduced to 10 months for your plea of guilty and will be served consecutively to the sentences already imposed. So in total so far, you are sentenced to 35 months imprisonment, backdated to 21 November 2019.

In combination, charges 4, 10, 13 and 15 amount to serious crimes from which the court must seek to protect people who are vulnerable by virtue of working in shops, sometimes alone, providing a publicly useful facility. On three of them you carried an improvised weapon, a hammer in one case, a bottle in another and a pointed object in a third in order to intimidate and subdue your victims.  On those charges, a substantial sentence of imprisonment would be merited to punish you, to seek to deter you and others from committing such crimes and to protect the public from you. I concluded that the risk criteria may be met and made a risk assessment order.

I have now considered the terms of a detailed risk assessment report prepared by an experienced consultant forensic psychologist who has concluded that almost every indicator of violence is present in your case with no protective factors. It is clear that adverse childhood experiences have played a part in how you now present, but I am concerned to protect the public from the serious harm which you are likely to cause to members of the public at large when you are not in prison. I note that there is no indication that you are currently amenable to supervision or treatment.


You are assessed as presenting high risk which means that the nature, seriousness and pattern of your behaviour indicate an enduring propensity to seriously endanger the lives, physical or psychological well-being of the public at large.

I have to determine if it is probable that the nature of, or the circumstances of the commission of the crimes in charges 4, 10, 13 and 15 either in themselves or as part of a pattern of behaviour are such as to demonstrate that there is a likelihood that you, if at liberty, will seriously endanger the lives, or physical or psychological well-being, of members of the public at large. I have to make that assessment by considering the position now but also looking into the future to consider what the position would be on your release from prison and the conclusion of your being subject to licence conditions, which in this case would be the termination of the extension period of an extended sentence.

Given the circumstances of your offending,  all of the information in the reports and having considered carefully the submissions made on your behalf, I consider that even with all of the measures which could be put in place during the whole currency of both parts of an extended sentence, it remains more likely than not, meaning probable, that you will commit crimes of serious violence again, seriously endangering the lives, or physical or psychological well-being, of members of the public at large. Having reached that conclusion I must make an order for lifelong restriction.

Parliament prescribes how I should fix the punishment part which is the period of time which must pass before you can apply for parole. Taking account of the whole circumstances of these crimes had I not been imposing an order for lifelong restriction, I would have imposed an extended sentence with a custodial term of 8 years.

Parliament says I must ignore any period of imprisonment which may be necessary for the protection of the public and to determine the part of that period of imprisonment which would represent an appropriate period to satisfy requirements of punishment and deterrence. That period is 7 years.

I will follow the normal approach suggested in the legislation and reduce that period by one half to take account of the effects of early release. From that period of 3 years and 6 months, because you pled guilty, the punishment part is reduced to 35 months which is also backdated to 21 November 2019.

The sentence imposed is not a sentence of imprisonment for 35 months, it is an order for lifelong restriction which is a sentence of imprisonment for an indeterminate period, which shares some characteristics with a life sentence. You will not be eligible to apply for parole until the punishment part has run its course. Unless you are able to take advantage of the help available to you, and stop taking drugs, it is likely that you are going to spend many years beyond your punishment part in prison.

You will only be released from prison when the Parole Board considers that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that you continue to be held in prison.“

5 February 2021