Sharkey fire killers Scott Snowden and Robert Jennings launch appeals

Scott Snowden and Robert Jennings have launched an appeal against their convictions and sentences

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Two men have begun an appeal against their convictions and life sentences for murdering three people in a deliberate house fire in Helensburgh.

Scott Snowden, 39, and Robert Jennings, 51, set the fire that killed Thomas Sharkey Snr, 55, his son Thomas Jnr, 21, and daughter, Bridget, eight.

Snowden was jailed for a minimum of 33 years and Jennings for 29 years.

Both men claim the trial judge did not give fair balance to defence and Crown evidence when addressing the jury.

Their cases are being heard by Lord Carloway, Lady Smith and Lord Brodie at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.

Snowden's legal team allege that trial judge Lord Matthews favoured the prosecution over the defence in his closing speech to the jury.

Thomas Sharkey Snr, Bridget and Thomas Jnr Thomas Sharkey Snr, Bridget and Thomas Jnr died following the fire at their home in Helensburgh

Jenning's legal team believe the judge was also wrong to allow a piece of evidence to go to the jury which they say was inaccurate and prejudiced the case against their client.

On Tuesday, Snowden's advocate Donald Findlay QC told the appeal judges that Lord Matthews committed mistakes when he summed up evidence at the end of the case.

He said: "He was obliged to ensure that there was a fair and balanced summing up of evidence, representing both the position of the Crown and the defence.

"While the learned trial judge rehearsed the Crown case, he failed to remind the jury of a number of important aspects of the defence case and the criticisms offered by the defence of the prosecution case."

Convictions 'unsafe'

Mr Findlay argued that this meant his client's conviction was unsafe and that it should be quashed.

The QC added: "He ran the risk of making the pieces of evidence seem more important to the jury than they actually were."

The appeal court hearing continues on Wednesday.

The fire that killed three members of the Sharkey family was set in the early hours of 24 July 2011.

Thomas Sharkey Snr was asleep downstairs and managed to climb out on to a ledge, where he was rescued by firefighters.

He had breathed in toxic smoke and sustained 30% burns to his body. He died in hospital six days later from multiple organ failure.

His son, Thomas Sharkey Jnr, was pronounced dead at the scene and his daughter, Bridget, died in hospital later that morning. Both died from smoke inhalation.

Mr Sharkey's wife Angela was the only member of the family to survive the blaze.

She eventually came off a life support machine only to be told by relatives that her family was dead.

Snowden and Jennings were also convicted of attempting to murder Angela Sharkey and of attempting to murder three members of the McGinley family, in a separate attack, by setting fire to their home.

The sentences handed out by Lord Matthews to Snowden and Jennings were among the longest ever passed in Scotland.

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