Families of murdered Scots call for changes to legal system

When sisters Rachel and Carla lost their father to murder 16 years ago, their lives changed forever.

They grew up in a close-knit family, with their dad, a former police officer, at the centre.

“He taught us a lot,” said Carla. “He was a genuinely great person”, added Rachel.

But then, in 2006, he was taken from them.

Carla and Rachel. Picture: Kathryn RattrayCarla and Rachel. Picture: Kathryn Rattray
Carla and Rachel. Picture: Kathryn Rattray
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The loss of their father has had a profound effect on both sisters and their families.

Rachel said: "It’s ruined my life, it’s ruined my ex-husband’s life, it’s ruined my kids’ life.

"It’s going to ripple through our family for generations.”

Dealing with their father’s murder was hard enough, but the sisters also found huge frustration with the legal system.

A photograph taken by the pair represents their feelings about criminal justice in Scotland. It shows a tangled rope, representing the loopholes they believe allow perpetrators of crime to walk free.

Their photo was displayed at an exhibition in Glasgow, which featured art created by families who have lost a loved one to murder.

The HUSH exhibition opened on Tuesday with a private launch attended by family members, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Keith Brown and Victim Support Scotland (VSS) staff and volunteers - who organised the event.

This exhibition gave Rachel and Carla an outlet for their frustration with the legal system.

Rachel said: "When something like this happens, you can’t move on. Especially when you don’t get the justice that you feel your family deserves.”

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Their father’s killer, who was convicted of murder in 2007, was sentenced to serve at least 18 years in prison. However, this was later reduced to 13 years on appeal, and he was released in 2021.

Both sisters struggle with this. Rachel said: "We’ll never have peace, we’ll never have closure. He is allowed to get on with his life, but ours is still ruined, and our dad is still dead.”

While they believe the justice system has improved in recent years, they believe more reform is needed.

"It’s all in favour of the criminal, and not the victim”, Rachel said. “The victim isn’t even in the equation most of the time.”

The sisters say they will never recover from their father’s death, but they felt “uplifted” after working with VSS, a charity that helps people affected by crime.

After years of only having each other to lean on, they now have VSS to turn to for practical and emotional support.

"It’s good to have someone that understands what you’ve been through and what you’re going through”, Carla said.

Scotland on Sunday also spoke to Claire, a young woman who lost her brother to murder in 2020, who described her experience of Scotland’s criminal justice system as “long, exhausting and just horrible”. She said she felt the public and the media treated his death as “entertainment”.

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On Tuesday, Claire stood up in front of the attendees and called for change.

“I hope by sharing our stories in our own words, people will be forced to actually stop and listen”, she said.

“And I truly hope this will lead to positive change for the future.”

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Keith Brown spoke of his intentions to create a trauma-responsive approach within the justice system.

He described the ongoing reform of Scotland’s legal procedure as “a big job”.

He said: “The justice system has got to be one that serves the people. It’s got to acknowledge the trauma that’s been created by that crime, and avoid situations where we repeat that trauma.”