Two killers who claimed the lives of a father and his two children by setting fire to their home yesterday lost their appeals against their murder convictions.
Scott Snowden, 39, and Robert Jennings, 51, received sentences that were among the longest passed in Scotland, after they were found guilty of the murders of Thomas Sharkey Snr, 55, his son Thomas Jnr, 21, and daughter Bridget, aged eight.
The pair were each jailed for life in July 2013. Snowden was ordered to serve at least 33 years before he is eligible to seek parole. Jennings had a minimum term of 29 years imposed.
The pair challenged their convictions for the murders at the Sharkey family home in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, in July 2011. No appeals were made against the sentences.
Mr Sharkey Snr died in hospital days after the blaze in the early hours. His son died at the scene and his daughter later in hospital. The pair were also convicted of attempting to murder Mr Sharkey’s wife, Angela, 48, the sole survivor.
Trial judge Lord Matthews told Snowden and Jennings: “You have been convicted of what is without doubt the most appalling crime I have ever been involved with in my professional career, the murder by fire of three-quarters of a family.”
The judge said it had marked “the culmination of a campaign characterised by violence, revenge, intimidation and cowardice”.
He told Snowden that he had exacted terrible revenge on others in the face of slights, insults or setbacks and that he had cynically recruited others to carry out such work for him.
The trial judge told Jennings that his actions in setting fire to the only door of the house “virtually guaranteed that the outcome would be as terrible as it proved to be”.
The pair maintained the trial judge did not give fair balance to defence and Crown when he came to address the jury at the end of the trial.
Judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh unanimously rejected the suggestion there had been a miscarriage of justice.
The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway, said: “The whole tenor of this charge [the address to the jurors by the trial judge] was one of balance. The court is quite unable to sustain a submission of a lack of balance.”
He explained: “No doubt the trial judge did not mention every point made by the defence in the speeches made on behalf of the appellants.
“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.
“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.”
He added: “The criticism must be a substantial one of imbalance going to the whole tenor or purport of the charge. 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,” he said.
The Lord Justice Clerk said in this case a “very experienced trial judge” had been communicating with the jury “in plain language”.
Lord Carloway added: “The court is entirely satisfied that the judge achieved the appropriate balance.”