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HMA v Robert O'Brien and Andrew Kelly


Jan 15, 2024

At the High Court in Glasgow, Lord Braid sentenced Robert O'Brien and Andrew Kelly to life imprisonment after they were convicted of murder. The punishment part, the minimum time they must spend in prison before being eligible for parole, was set at 22 years for Robert O'Brien and 18 years for Andrew Kelly.

On Sentencing Lord Braid made the following remarks in court:

"Robert O’Brien and Andrew Kelly, the jury convicted each of you, along with Donna Brand, of the murder of 14 year old Caroline Glachan on 25 August 1996.  I am unable to sentence Donna Brand today, as she is not currently well enough to be interviewed for her report or to attend court, but I do intend to sentence both of you. 

Robert O’Brien, you were the principal perpetrator.  No-one who heard the evidence of Dr Marjorie Turner, Consultant Forensic Pathologist, could fail to have been sickened by her description of the injuries inflicted by you upon Caroline Glachan, and the extreme violence you visited upon her: more than ten blows to the head, at least some of them with a weapon, with sufficient force to fracture Caroline’s skull.  The absence of defensive injuries suggests that she lost consciousness quickly; at any rate, she did not have time, or was unable, to defend herself.  The evidence was that you had recently formed a relationship with her, although you were also in a longer-standing relationship with Donna Brand.  On the night of Saturday 24 August, you arranged to meet Caroline at the River Leven, by the so called Black Bridge.  She was infatuated with you and, by all accounts, excited at the prospect of meeting up with you, although it also seemed that she was frightened of you because of previous assaults by you on her. 

However, you did not go to the Black Bridge alone; instead you went with Andrew Kelly, Donna Brand and Sarah Jane O’Neill, who is now deceased, taking with you the two young children whom Andrew Kelly and Sarah Jane O’Neill were supposed to be babysitting.  One can only imagine the terror Caroline must have experienced when she realised, as she must have done, that this was to be no romantic encounter but that you had come armed with a weapon, and mob-handed, with the intention of assaulting her; or, as Sarah Jane O’Neill was heard to say afterwards, that it was a set-up. 

You then carried out your murderous assault on Caroline, which I have already described.  The crime is made still worse, if that is possible, by the fact that having assaulted her and rendered her unconscious, you then left her, face down, in the River Leven, still alive at that point; and while she may have died in any event from the injuries inflicted upon her, the fact is that she died from drowning.  It is hard to find words to describe the evil nature of your crime, but three which come to mind are brutal, depraved and above all, wicked.  The precise motive for the attack remains unclear, although on the evidence it appears that even in the short time you had known Caroline, you had exhibited controlling and violent behaviour towards her.  

Andrew Kelly, I accept that you played a lesser role in the murder, but by its verdict, the jury must have found that you were party to a plan, whether formed in advance or spontaneously on the towpath, to inflict murderous violence upon Caroline Glachan, and you must bear the consequences of that.  On the evidence which the jury must have accepted, you were throwing rocks at Caroline Glachan in the course of the assault, a clear acceptance of and participation in the violence being inflicted principally by Robert O’Brien. However, while you were not the principal perpetrator in the physical assault itself, you must take equal responsibility for having left Caroline lying face down in the water when she was still alive; drowning as we know, being the actual cause of death. 

As far as both of you are concerned a further aggravating feature is that the murder was committed in the presence of, and was witnessed by, two very young children; and one can only speculate at the extent to which that has blighted their lives.  I also note that both of you continue to deny your involvement, and although you have acknowledged the tragedy of Caroline’s murder, neither of you has expressed any remorse for your own involvement.  I also note that at the time of the murder, on the basis of the evidence, and what is said in your Criminal Justice Social Work Reports about your lifestyle at the time, it is very likely that you had both consumed, and were under the influence of, drugs.

Caroline, it seems, was a popular teenager, perhaps kicking against the boundaries as teenagers do, perhaps experimenting with drugs, but, on the evidence, no more than that.  As her mother Margaret McKeitch puts it in her victim statement, she was a lover of life.   Due to both of you, Caroline has been deprived of the opportunity of living that life: of developing into an adult, forming relationships, having children, fulfilling the potential which she evidently had, and of continuing to enjoy life, as she clearly did.  Additionally, you have taken a daughter from her loving mother.  In her victim statement, Mrs McKeitch speaks eloquently and movingly of the lasting pain which Caroline’s death has caused, the void which has been left in her life which can never be filled, and the incalculable feelings of deep loss and sadness which will always be there.  She has been deprived of seeing the woman that Caroline would have become and of taking pride in the potential Caroline may have fulfilled.  No sentence that I pass can possibly make up for what she has lost.

I have listened to, and take account of, the submissions in mitigation advanced on your behalf by Mr Duguid and Mr Renucci respectively, and I also take into account what is contained in your respective Criminal Justice Social Work Reports.

Turning to disposal, the sentence for the crime of murder is fixed by law.  The only sentence I can pass on each of you is one of life imprisonment. However, in imposing that sentence, I also have to specify a period which must elapse before you can apply for release on parole. This period is known as the punishment part of your sentence.  You should understand that in fixing the punishment part the court is not in any sense fixing the time when you will be released.  Instead the court is fixing the number of years which 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 is taken into account if and when you apply in due course for your release.  Whether or not you are ever released will therefore be for others to determine in the future; and even if you are released you will be subject to the conditions of a licence for the rest of your lives and liable to be recalled to prison if you break any of the conditions.  What the punishment part does do is to reflect the sentencing aims of retribution and deterrence.

Robert O’Brien, at the time of this offence you were yourself only 18 years of age, which is normally a factor to be taken into account in mitigation.  However, your schedule of convictions, all accrued after this offence, illustrates that this offence cannot be said to be out of character and cannot be ascribed to any lack of emotional or intellectual maturity on your part. Of particular significance is your subsequent conviction, in 2007, of attempted murder when you fired a crossbow at the victim.  You received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment for that offence, and have previously served other custodial sentences.  I conclude from that offence that your culpability for the murder of Caroline Glachan is not significantly reduced by reason of your age at the time, as it might have been had you gone on to lead an otherwise law-abiding life.  In fixing the punishment part in your case, I have had regard to the circumstances of the offence, which I have already described.   In particular, I take into account the brutal, premeditated and wicked nature of the attack, with a weapon, acting with others, committed against a defenceless 14 year old girl who, in relation to you, could be described as vulnerable; and to the fact that you left Caroline, face down, in the water; and that the attack was committed in the presence of two very young children.   While I have had regard to what has been said on your behalf, the fact is that there are no mitigating features whatsoever, with the possible exception of your age at the time, to which I attach little weight for the reasons I have given. 

In these circumstances, I impose upon you a sentence of life imprisonment.  Although you were remanded in custody in this case on 25 November 2021, you were already on remand for a separate matter at that time, which was not concluded until 20 June 2022.  Since you would have been in custody during that period irrespective of this case, I see no reason why your sentence should be backdated to 25 November 2021.  In your case I propose to fix the punishment part at 22 years, and order that the sentence be backdated until 20 June 2022.   

Andrew Kelly, at the time of the offence, you were only 16 years of age.  You too have a schedule of convictions, all being for offences committed after the present one, and you too have served previous sentences of imprisonment.  I acknowledge that your previous offending is less serious than that of Robert O’Brien, and there have been significant gaps in your offending.  In fixing the punishment part in your case, I take into account the brutal nature of the attack, and the fact that very young children were present.  While I accept that your role in the assault which led to Caroline’s death was less than that of Robert O’Brien, the fact remains, as I have pointed out, that you share equal responsibility for having left Caroline lying face down in the river when she was still alive.  To an extent, your culpability is mitigated by your age at the time, although the harm done is not.   To reflect your age at the time, and that your overall responsibility for the murder was less than that of Robert O’Brien, I impose upon you a sentence of life imprisonment, the punishment part in your case being 18 years, to run from 14 December 2023. 

15 January 2024