Joseph McHale and Kevin Schruyers v HMA

Mr McHale and Mr Schruyers have had their sentences reduced after a spree of ATM thefts. The two men were sentenced to 12-and-a-half years and 13 years imprisonment respectively at Glasgow High court after they broke in to cash machines using explosives and stole £130,000.

They argued on appeal that there was not enough evidence led at trial to prove that they were the same group of people who committed all of the offences and that the Judge did not direct the jury in this respect. The Appeal Court agreed with this reasoning and stated that just because the offences were of a similar nature it did not entitle the jury to come to this conclusion automatically.

The judge had relied upon Howden v HM Advocate 1994 SCCR 19 for the principle that the identification of peculiar features would entitle a jury to conclude that the crimes were committed by the same person or group. McHale’s was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years and Schruyers’ to eight years as a result of this successful appeal.

Lord Justice General said in conclusion: “If an accused person is proved to have committed a particular offence and it is demonstrated that another identical offence has been committed, that may be sufficient to prove that the accused perpetrated both offences… Whether it is sufficient will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances; notably the extent of the identical features and their proximity in time and place.”

He continued: “However, in a situation where there are near identical crimes committed in similar locations over a period of weeks, it may not be legitimate to conclude that they were committed by the same persons; albeit that they were perpetrated by a gang under the same leadership.”