A JUDGE has condemned members of a community who failed to prevent the “unspeakably callous and cowardly murders” of a father and his two children, as he jailed their killers for life.
Scott Snowden, 38, will serve at least 33 years in prison, while his henchman Robert Jennings, 50, faces a minimum of 29.
Snowden ordered Jennings to start a fire which killed Thomas Sharkey jnr, 21, and his sister Bridget, eight, in their home.
Their father Thomas Sharkey snr, 55, died six days later in hospital.
Angela Sharkey, 47, was rescued from the blaze and awoke more than two weeks later in a hospital bed to learn she had been left widowed and childless.
Snowden and Jennings were convicted on Wednesday - exactly two years after the deaths - following an 11-week trial at the High Court, in Glasgow.
Sentencing the pair today, Judge Lord Matthews said: “You have been convicted of what is without doubt the most appalling crime I’ve ever been involved with in my professional career.”
They had waged a campaign of “violence, revenge, intimidation and cowardice”, he added.
And addressing people who had shielded the pair prior to the fire in the Argyll and Bute town, the judge said: “Those who failed to speak up at an earlier stage, when they could perhaps have nipped all this in the bud before the events of 24 July, 2011, bear a heavy burden of responsibility.”
Following sentencing, John Dunn, Procurator Fiscal for the West of Scotland, said: “Snowden and Jennings’ campaign of vengeance and violence culminated with the unspeakably callous and cowardly murders of three of the Sharkey family.
“Angela Sharkey almost died in the fire which killed her husband, her son and her eight-year-old daughter.
“Their conviction and sentence today now brings them to justice. We hope that their victims, and the wider community in Helensburgh, can start to rebuild their lives.”
Police Scotland plans to review investigations into the pair carried out before the deaths, on 24 July, 2011, to see if they could have been prevented.
Snowden was a drug dealer who had a “hatred” of Mr Sharkey snr after he “intervened in connection with a debt”. Jennings was Snowden’s henchman who exacted revenge on people who annoyed him.
The two men had carried out a “campaign of violence” in Helensburgh, the court had heard over the course of the trial.
Terrible revenge was exacted on anyone who crossed Snowden, Lord Matthews said.
A string of other attacks perpetrated by him had the potential to cause devastation and loss of life.
Snowden had “cowardly” recruited others to do his dirty work for him, making sure he had a “cast-iron” alibi.
But if he thought he was safe from prosecution, as others would not go to the authorities, he was wrong, the judge said.
The judge admitted Jennings had perhaps not intended the full consequences of his actions.
But by starting the fire he had “virtually guaranteed” the result would be as terrible as it turned out to be.
Thomas jnr had been a promising golfer and Bridget a “typical, smiling, innocent young girl”, who, had things gone as they should, would not have been in the house that night.
She had come home early from a sleepover to be with her family and tragically succumbed to the smoke and gas along with her brother, the judge said.
Ms Sharkey now has to face the “anguish” of going through the rest of her life deprived of the love and companionship of her family, he added.
The pair’s sentences were backdated to June 2012.
Snowden is already serving a 19-month sentence imposed in December 2011 for drugs offences.
Speaking before the sentencing, Jennings’s defence counsel, Ian Duguid QC, said there was nothing that could mitigate the consequences of the fire.
“I think it can only be viewed as a terrible atrocity in the first place and a terrible tragedy for the Sharkey family,” he said.