SCOTLAND’s worst criminals would die in jail under plans for whole-life sentences to be examined by MSPs.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson announced her party would try to change the law on life sentences in Scotland by bringing it into line with England and Wales.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would consider the measure, but stressed ultimate decisions on sentencing would always lie with an independent judiciary.

About 70 prisoners south of the Border are currently serving whole-life sentences, including Moors murderer Ian Brady, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, serial killers Rosemary West and Dennis Nilsen, and Thomas Mair, the white supremacist killer of Labour MP Jo Cox.

However, there are no whole-life sentences in Scotland, although courts can impose sentences on elderly or sick offenders in the knowledge they will die in prison.

Most murders are committed by those under 25.


Ms Davidson raised the subject at First Minister’s Questions by referring to 15-year-old Paige Doherty, who was murdered in a frenzied knife attack by a shopkeeper in Clydebank last year.

Her killer, Mark Leatham, had his sentence cut from 27 to 23 years on appeal last week.

Ms Davidson said if the Scottish Government did not bring in whole-life sentences, her party would bring forward a Member’s Bill on them.

She said: “As it stands, our judges do not have the tool of a whole-life tariff at their disposal and we say that we should.

“We can sit in this Parliament and we can wring our hands and we can express outrage every time something like this happens, or we can do something about it.

“We should change the law so families like Paige Doherty’s feel the law is tipping back in their favour and the worst criminals are kept off our streets forever.”

Ms Sturgeon said her “heart breaks” for Paige Doherty’s family.

She said: “I met Paige’s mother last year and there literally are no words to express the pain and grief she and the rest of her family have gone through.”

She said she understood the Justice For Paige campaign group criticising the cut to Leathem’s sentence as “heartbreaking” and arguing it “serves no justice to Paige and her family”

She said: “If I had been a relative of Paige Doherty, I would have felt exactly the same. As well as being First Minister, I’m also a human being and there are many occasions when I look at decisions of courts and wish different decisions had been reached. It may well be this is one such case.”

But she stressed: “This was the decision of an independent judge in a court of law. We have an independent judiciary in this country.”

Ms Davidson went on: “A system that cuts a child murderer’s sentence because he is deemed not as bad as others is rightly seen by most members of the public as a disgrace.

“The problem here isn’t just the Paige Doherty case, there are too many families who have seen their loved ones killed who do not feel they are getting the justice they deserve who feel that the dice is loaded against them and in favour of the criminals.”

Ms Sturgeon pointed out that even if a whole-life tariff had been available to the court in the Leatham case, the judge might have chosen a different sentence .

However, she pledged the Government would “continue to look with an open mind at proposals that are brought forward for reform”.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale attacked Ms Sturgeon over health board proposals to close a children’s ward in Paisley, after she had denied there were any such plans last year.

“Because of the SNP’s failure to properly staff our NHS, children’s health services are in crisis,” she said.

The First Minister said there had been no such plans at the time, but there were now, and ministers would make the final decision.

Ms Sturgeon also said it was “absolutely and utterly disgraceful” of Labour to criticise decisions affecting the sickest children in the country which were based on expert medical evidence.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie complained ministers had failed to update parliament about the end of its policy to have 1000 more police officers than it inherited in 2007.