Politicians and women’s groups have called for stiffer sentences for domestic abusers in the wake of former MSP Bill Walker being jailed for 12 months for a series of assaults against his three ex-wives.
Anger over the former SNP MSP’s sentence grew last night when politicians and campaigners against domestic violence criticised the fact he had been tried in a court which was incapable of handing down a more severe punishment.
Walker, 71, received the maximum jail term that could be imposed, because he was tried under summary procedure which limits sentencing to a one-year maximum.
Disgraced yet unrepentant, the ex-Dunfermline MSP showed no emotion when he was imprisoned by Sheriff Kathrine Mackie at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.
Given the serious nature of his offences in a period spanning four decades, campaigners questioned why he had not been tried in a more powerful court.
The sentence, which might see Walker released after just six months, was handed down after he was found guilty of 23 charges of assault against his wives Maureen Traquair, Anne Gruber and Diana Walker, and Mrs Gruber’s 16-year-old daughter Anne Louise Paterson.
Sheriff Mackie said Walker had failed to show any remorse for the “profound physical and psychological harm” he did to his victims.
“Your incredulity at being convicted and your perceived victimisation were further indications of your abdication of responsibility for your behaviour,” Sheriff Mackie said.
Walker’s solicitor Gordon Martin suggested that his client could receive a non-custodial sentence if he were sent to participate in a rehabilitation course known as the Caledonian Men’s Programme, which works with men who abuse women.
But Sheriff Mackie took the view a jail term was the only appropriate sentence.
She told him the results of his behaviour remained “vivid” and distressing for his victims. His children no longer wanted any contact with him “because of your temper”.
Last month, Sheriff Mackie found Walker guilty of assaulting his first wife Ms Traquair on three separate occasions in the 1960s and 1980s. On one occasion he punched her in the face, giving her a black eye two weeks before they married.
He was convicted of assaulting his second wife, Mrs Gruber, 15 times between 1978 and 1984. He also breached the peace by leaping into Mrs Gruber’s home brandishing an air rifle. Walker, of Alloa in Clackmannanshire, was also found guilty of assaulting and injuring Mrs Gruber’s daughter, Anne Louise, by repeatedly striking her on the head with a saucepan in 1978.
He was found guilty of four assaults on his third wife, Diana Walker, between June 1988 and January 1995.
The repeated pattern of assaults led to a number of people asking why Walker had not been tried under solemn rather than summary proceedings.
Solemn proceedings are reserved for more serious offences and allow sheriffs to impose a maximum sentence of five years.
Labour’s justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, said: “When these people are convicted by a court, they need to be dealt with as criminals. Very often, the system still looks at them as if they have been involved in some kind of domestic circumstance.
“In cases like Bill Walker’s, where there are extended episodes of violence over many years, that should be taken very seriously indeed and heard under solemn proceedings.”
That view was echoed by Lily Greenan, of Scottish Women’s Aid. She said: “If someone commits a single act of ‘common assault’, summary court is absolutely appropriate. However, if they commit that same act of assault repeatedly, against a partner – or several partners – for years, we believe that’s a different kind of crime, with a significantly greater impact, and it should be prosecuted in a higher-level court with a greater range of sentencing powers.”
She added: “We have significant concerns about why domestic abuse continues to be routinely prosecuted in summary courts and intend to raise this with the Scottish Government and the Crown Office.”
When Walker first went to court, he appeared on petition, which suggested that he could have been tried under solemn proceedings.
The Crown Office said the evidence against him was subject to further investigation before it was handed to an independent Crown counsel. The counsel later instructed the case should be heard in a specialist domestic abuse court.
Outside the court, Rob Armstrong, the former brother-in-law of one of Walker’s ex-wives, who tipped off the SNP about his past, paid tribute to the courage shown by the women who gave evidence against him.
Walker’s second wife, Mrs Gruber, said she felt no elation at her former husband’s sentence.
“Hopefully, it will give him time to focus on the damage that he has wreaked on so many lives,” she said.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The custodial sentence handed down to Bill Walker reflects the extremely serious nature of his crimes, for which he has shown no contrition.”
Disgraced politician could be free in less than six months
AltHough Bill Walker was given a 12-month jail sentence, the reality is he could be out of prison long before that.
Under Scotland’s automatic early release scheme, those who receive a sentence of less than four years are called short-term prisoners and released automatically and unconditionally at the half-way point of their sentence, with the Parole Board having no role in the process.
As a short-term prisoner, Walker is unlikely to be sent to a high-security prison such as Peterhead. His most likely destination is HMP Edinburgh, commonly known as Saughton.
It is possible his time inside may be even shorter than six months if he is assessed as being suitable for a Home Detention Curfew (HDC). HDC came into use in Scotland in 2006 and allows prisoners, mainly on shorter sentences, to serve up to a quarter of their sentence (for a maximum of six months and a minimum of two weeks) on licence in the community, while wearing an electronic tag. The licence includes a range of standard conditions and a curfew that requires prisoners to remain at a particular place for a set period each day. Other conditions can be included on a case by case basis.
• May 5: Bill Walker elected to Scottish Parliament in surprise victory for SNP, beating previous Liberal Democrat winner into third place and finishing 590 votes above Labour.
March 4: Abuse allegations surface in Sunday Herald newspaper. Walker suspended from Scottish National Party.
• March 5: Walker steps down from positions on Holyrood’s Local Government and Public Petitions committees.
• April 8: SNP expels MSP.
• April 14: Police say they are investigating allegations made against Walker.
• June 8: Walker arrested and charged.
• June 14: Walker suspends appeal against SNP expulsion.
• July 5: MSP makes first court appearance, at Dunfermline Sheriff Court.
• July 8: Trial begins at Edinburgh Sheriff Court before Sheriff Katherine Mackie.
• July 12: Trial adjourned after five days of evidence.
• July 29: Trial resumes.
• August 2: Trial adjourned again after five days of evidence.
• August 22: Walker convicted of 23 charges of assault and one charge of breaching the peace between 1967 and 1995. Sentence deferred but court only has power to imprison him for one year, giving him option of continuing as MSP. First Minister Alex Salmond leads calls for him to quit.
• August 29: Walker tells The Courier newspaper he has no plans to vacate seat despite vast majority of MSPs signing motion calling on him to resign.
• August 31: Walker faces having his wages curtailed by Scottish Parliament if jailed. Holyrood presiding officer Tricia Marwick instructs officials to look at Scotland Act and advise Parliament’s corporate body on members’ pay and conditions.
• September 7: Walker submits resignation to Parliament, blaming “media onslaught”.
• September 10: MSPs vote to reduce pay by 90% of any Holyrood politician imprisoned, or detained while awaiting trial.
• September 11: October 24 date for by-election to fill Walker’s Dunfermline seat announced.
• September 20: Walker sentenced to 12 months at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.