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HMA v James Bernard Patrick O’Rourke


Jul 5, 2022

At the High Court in Glasgow today, Lord Arthurson sentenced James O'Rourke to life imprisonment after he pled guilty to the murder of Dean David Ramsey. The punishment part of the sentence was set at 23 years.


On sentencing, Lord Arthurson said: "James Bernard Patrick O’Rourke, in this court yesterday afternoon, on the first day of a dedicated floating trial diet, prior to the balloting of jurors, you pled guilty as libelled to a single charge indictment.  This morning the court has been provided with an agreed narrative and heard mitigation advanced on your behalf by your senior counsel.

On 9 January 2021 at HMP Glenochil, Alloa, you assaulted Dean David Ramsey, a fellow prisoner there, binding his wrists together, tying ligatures round his neck and compressing his neck with those ligatures, causing him such severe injury that he died on 11 January 2021 at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbert and in this way you murdered him. Putting matters shortly, you strangled Mr Ramsey in a prison cell with a ligature made from bedsheets, thereby inflicting upon him an unsurvivable brain injury.

You are now aged 52. You were aged 50 when you committed this crime. You come before the court with by far the worst criminal record that I have encountered in my experience to date as a criminal judge. As a teenager you received multiple custodial sentences at summary level. In 1992, some 30 years ago, you were at the age of 22 convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at Glasgow High Court. In 1997 at Edinburgh High Court you were sentenced to 6 years imprisonment in respect of two charges of assault. In 2002 at Aberdeen High Court you received a sentence of 8 years imprisonment in respect of charges including assault and abduction. In 2004 at Perth High Court you were sentenced to 4 years imprisonment in respect of a charge of assault to injury. In 2005 at Edinburgh High Court you received a sentence of 8 years imprisonment in respect of a charge of assault to severe injury and danger of life, which crime involved the use by you of a weapon, namely a sharp object. Finally, in 2019 at Glasgow High Court you were sentenced to 9 years imprisonment in respect of a charge of assault to severe injury, permanent disfigurement, danger of life and attempted murder, in which crime the weapon used by you was a knife. To be clear then, since your murder conviction and sentence of life imprisonment in 1992 you have accrued no less than five separate High Court convictions.

I have listened with care to the submissions advanced on your behalf this morning in mitigation by your senior counsel. In particular I note what has been said in respect of the history and timing of your plea of guilty, and confirm that you will receive a discount on sentence as a result of that in due course. I further note that it is your position that you had no intention to kill your victim, but that you accept that the requisite degree of wicked recklessness can readily be inferred in the circumstances of this case. Senior counsel advised that you wished him to express your regret for the pain caused by your actions to the family of your victim, a matter already expressed by you to the police as referred to in the agreed narrative. Senior counsel finally, and very frankly, observed that you have accepted that by the tendering of your plea you are committing to spending the rest of your life in custody, even if you are in due course in a position to apply for release, having regard to your record and the nature of this offence.

The court today requires to sentence you for this your second murder conviction, namely the murder by you of Mr Ramsey at HMP Glenochil in January 2021.  As you will well appreciate, the sentence for the crime of murder is fixed by law and is one of imprisonment for life. The court also requires to impose as part of the sentencing exercise on this indictment a period known as the punishment part of that disposal, which part is the number of years which you must serve before you can be considered for release on licence.  I do not fix the time when you will be released; instead, I have to fix the number of years that must be served by you before you can apply for release. The punishment part does not take into account the need for public protection. That important matter is taken into account if and when any application is made for your release on licence. The punishment part does take into account the sentencing requirements of retribution and deterrence.

In selecting an appropriate punishment part tariff in your case, I take principally into account the following matters: first, the extreme gravity of the index offence, and in particular that it was committed in a prison setting against another prisoner and involved the compression by you of your victim’s neck with a ligature, his wrists having been bound together; and, second, your appalling history of convictions for crimes of violence, including, significantly, both murder and attempted murder over a period of several decades. The crime before the court in your case today can in my view be characterised as the callous, remorseless and thoroughly brutal execution by you of a fellow prisoner. Excepting the act of the tendering by you of your late plea of guilty, and to a much lesser degree your reported expressions of regret, there are in my view no material mitigating features to be found anywhere in your case.

Turning finally to disposal, in these whole circumstances I accordingly now impose upon you in respect of this indictment a sentence of life imprisonment. I fix the punishment part of that life sentence at a period of 23 years. In recognition of the utilitarian value of your plea of guilty, tendered albeit at the eleventh hour in these proceedings, I confirm that, but for the timing and tendering of your plea, the punishment part would have been set at 25 years. For the avoidance of doubt this sentence and the punishment part period now imposed will commence from today."