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HMA v Lawrence Barbiers Russell Jr


Mar 19, 2024

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court today, Sheriff Alison Stirling sentenced Lawrence Russell Jr to 10 months imprisonment after the offender pled guilty to reporting for duty as a pilot at Edinburgh Airport while exceeding the prescribed blood alcohol limit.

On sentencing Sheriff Alison Stirling made the following remarks in court:

" Lawrence Barbiers Russell JR, on 5 March 2024, at the sheriff court in Edinburgh you pled guilty to reporting for duty at Edinburgh International Airport as a pilot rostered to pilot as captain for a Boeing767 aircraft scheduled to depart for New York JFK airport when the proportion of alcohol in your blood was not less than 49 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which exceeded the prescribed limit of 20 milligrammes.  The blood alcohol limit for car drivers is 50 milligrammes. 

The flight was scheduled to depart at 10.35 am on 16 June 2023.  At 9.15 am you arrived at baggage control wearing your pilot’s uniform.  You had a “Delta” Airlines lanyard and crew pass in your possession.  You put your bag in a tray and sent it for x-ray screening.  Your tray was rejected by the x-ray machine due to the volume of liquids within it.  You identified the tray as yours, and your bag was manually searched.  Your bag was found to contain two bottles of Jägermeister, one of which was open and was just under half full.  Because you were wearing a pilot’s uniform, police were contacted.  Officers arrived shortly thereafter.  You gave your details to the police, and told them you were a captain with Delta Airlines. 

You were shown the bottles of alcohol and said that you had not drunk recently, but that you had been drinking the previous evening.  At about 9.57 am you were required to give a breath sample, and you failed.  You were upset about that.  At 10.12am you were arrested and taken to Livingston Police Office where you agreed to provide a sample of blood.  At 12.14pm the medical examiner took a blood sample from you, and it was immediately taken to Howdenhall for instantaneous testing.  It showed the blood alcohol reading set out in the charge.  Later on that day you were cautioned and charged.  You indicated that you understood the caution and charge and responded “I’m terrified”. 

You are now 63 years old.  You have no British previous convictions, although I note from the Talbott Recovery Skyline Program report dated 14 November 2023 that you were Driving Under the Influence as a student, and that you have a more recent history of Driving Under the Influence too. 

I have carefully considered the voluminous bundle of documents lodged by your solicitor at the previous hearing.  I have read the reports from the Talbott Recovery Skyline Program.  You were diagnosed with Severe Alcohol Use Disorder, but you are now in remission.  You successfully completed that programme.  I have read all the letters of support from a variety of people.  Some of these people work in the airline industry, and some of them are also pilots with alcoholism who were in treatment.  Others are people involved with Talbott.  I understand from the Talbott reports that you lost your job and were on disability, but I also understand that it is likely you will be re-employed as a pilot, having completed your treatment, and that you may return to Delta.  I recognise from the volume of paperwork that the treatment was intense. 

I have also read your own account of the offence and the extent of your drinking at that time.  The flight you were due to make to New York had to be cancelled, and you are remorseful for the inconvenience that caused to your employer and the passengers on that flight.  The records also tell me a lot about your personal, educational, family and social history. 

I have also read the criminal justice social work report.  You were candid with the report writer.  Much of what is said in the report is mirrored in the documents lodged by your solicitor.  You had a good upbringing from your parents, with no adverse childhood experiences.  You maintained good relationships with your parents and your three siblings, though your father passed away in 2022.  You met your wife 37 years ago when you were at college, and you have been married for 35 years.  Your arrest – and other personal issues referred to in the documents lodged by your solicitor – have put a strain on your marriage.  Your wife remains supportive of you, as have your two sons.  Your employer has been very supportive.  Following your arrest you were placed on long-term disability leave and received half your salary.  Once you have completed your sentence you will apply for a new Aviation Medical Certificate.  You expect that will be granted, and that if it is granted you expect to be re-instated to your former position.  You have no health issues other than alcoholism. 

I have also taken into account everything said by your solicitor at the previous hearing and today on your behalf. 

I recognise that you have not previously been sentenced to a period of imprisonment. 

Despite the presumption in Scotland against imposing short sentences, custody is the only appropriate disposal, having regard to the serious nature of your offending.  Your offence showed a high level of culpability, and a high potential for serious harm to have been done.  In particular you were to be the captain on that flight, you had a half full bottle of Jägermeister with you, and the flight had to be cancelled. 

Having regard to all the circumstances, including your own personal mitigation, the sentence I am imposing is a sentence of 10 months imprisonment.  I have discounted that from a headline sentence of 15 months, taking into account the fact that you pled guilty at the earliest opportunity. 

The sentence will be backdated to a notional commencement date of 3 March 2024, to take account of the 2 days you spent on remand when you appeared on petition on 19 June 2023. 

Reasons for this sentence include punishment, protection of the public and deterrence of others who may be inclined to commit similar offences. "

 19 March 2024