Glasgow & West Scotland

Sharkey fire killers Scott Snowden and Robert Jennings lose appeals

Scott Snowden and Robert Jennings
Image caption Scott Snowden and Robert Jennings lost appeals against their convictions

Two men serving life terms for murdering three people in a deliberate house fire in Helensburgh have lost appeals against their convictions.

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.

Appeal judges have rejected their claims that the judge did not give fair balance to defence and Crown evidence.

The pair raised challenges against their convictions and maintained that the trial judge Lord Matthews did not give fair balance to defence and Crown when he came to address the jury at the end of the trial.

Correct verdict

But Lord Carloway, who heard the appeal with Lady Smith and Lord Brodie at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, have now unanimously rejected the challenges.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway, said: "The whole tenor of this charge [address to the jurors by the trial judge] was one of balance."

The senior judge said: "The court is quite unable to sustain a submission of a lack of balance.

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

"No doubt the trial judge did not mention every point made by the defence in the speeches made on behalf of the appellants."

Lord Carloway said it "would not have been appropriate to do so, partly because such an exercise in itself may have been open to criticism as tarnishing the power of the speeches within the dramatic context of the trial as it developed live".

The judge continued: "A contention that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, which is supported only by pointing to a judge's failure to mention a particular point or points raised by the defence, will not, of itself, suffice.

"The criticism must be a substantial one of imbalance going to the whole whole tenor or purport of the charge."

Jury not misled

He added: "Put simply, an appellant will require to demonstrate that, looking at the charge as a whole, its tenor was unbalanced in the sense of demonstrably favouring the Crown upon a contentious issue of fact raised in the trial."

Lord Carloway said: "The question then is one of whether, looking at the whole tenor or purport of this charge, the trial judge said, or failed to say, something which might have had the result of misleading the jury or diverting them from their task. The answer to that question is in the negative."

Lord Carloway concluded: "The court is entirely satisfied that the judge achieved the appropriate balance."

The appeal judges rejected further grounds advanced by Jennings and commented that on one of them, over expert evidence of identification, that it was surprising that leave to appeal was granted.

Image caption Angela Sharkey was the only family member to survive the fire

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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