Legal system ‘failing Scotland’s domestic abuse victims’

A man was jailed for just three years despite a catalogue of attacks on two women over 14 years. Picture: John Devlin
A man was jailed for just three years despite a catalogue of attacks on two women over 14 years. Picture: John Devlin
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Domestic violence law is not “fit for purpose” says a campaigner, after a machete-wielding abuser who carried out a catalogue of attacks on two women over 14 years was jailed for three years.

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, speaking after James Gray was sentenced, said there was a problem with the “ massive disconnect” between the change in attitude to domestic abuse and what the legal system does at present.

Gray, 39, from Auchtermuchty in Fife, who was sentenced yesterday, held a machete to one woman’s throat and repeatedly smashed another woman’s head off a bath.

He had initially denied the offences, forcing his victims to give evidence in court.

Gray, who represented himself at Dundee Sheriff Court after his solicitor withdrew after he again denied the offences, subjected Diane Willsden to attacks from January 2001 to December 2010, including holding a machete to her throat and threatening her and another person with a knife.

His next victim, Jane Allan, was assaulted during 2014 and 2015 – including being pushed into a bath, almost strangled, having her head repeatedly smashed off the bath and being subjected to threats to kill her. The court heard Ms Allan’s arm was broken in two places as a result of the attack.

Dr Scott said: “In general there has been this massive disconnect between how seriously we take domestic abuse in Scotland and disposals.

“This is much related to the fact that attitudes have changed but the justice system has not. The law is not fit for purpose. The Scottish Government’s consultation closed last Friday. It is our conviction that if we get this law right the whole system will have much better tools for making this happen.”

Ms Scott added: “When the legal system is taking domestic abuse seriously it doesn’t always have the legal tools – we don’t have a specific law about domestic abuse, instead we have a patchwork of laws about threatening behaviour and then there is corroboration, the elephant in the room.

“It is a system which has limped along for years, squeezing domestic abuse into one of those boxes.”

Sentencing Gray to three years and three months, Sheriff Lorna Drummond QC, said: “You don’t seem to be showing much remorse for any of your actions and that makes these incidents all the more serious.”