Gambling with the Lives of Woman; Outrage Greets Appeal Judges' Decision to Reduce Life Sentence on Youth Whose Rape Attack Nearly Killed Old Lady

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Byline: ROBERT FAIRBURN;DAVE FINLAY

A TEENAGER who raped a frail 73-year-old woman in an attack described as `appallingly evil' by the trial judge, has had his life sentence slashed to just nine years.

The victim, a retired school teacher, almost died from her injuries. But three appeal judges have ruled that the prison sentence imposed on 19-year-old David McMillan was `excessive'.

Last night anger erupted at the overturned decision which means McMillan could be free within four-and-a-half-years for good behaviour.

Politicians and women's groups united in their fury at what has been seen as another climbdown by the judiciary and there was a similar reaction in the victim's home town of Oban.

A friend of the victim said last night: `Even now, nine months after, this poor woman is struggling to come to terms with what happened and is deeply traumatised by her ordeal.

`There is no one in this town who will think that justice has been done now.'

The rape of the elderly spinster in her home led to injuries that caused blood poisoning. Her condition deteriorated so badly that the procurator fiscal made arrangements to take a death-bed statement.

The life sentence by Lord Milligan in June was welcomed by campaigners as a tough new stance against violence.

But the appeal judges, Lord Rodger, who is Scotland's most senior judge, sitting with Lord Marnoch and Lord Cullen, agreed with a defence submission that McMillan was not a danger to the public.

They pointed out the accused had no previous record although on occasions prior to the rape he had broken into other people's houses without actually attacking them.

Last night Conservative Party law and order spokesman Bill Aitken said: `Lord Milligan imposed the life sentence in the full knowledge of the case and his view was that was the only appropriate sentence.

`Even when a woman is not attacked, when she wakes up to find a stranger has broken into her house that in itself is a terrifying experience.

`Few would regard this man other than a menace to society.'

Dorothy Fall of Scottish Women's Aid added: `All the appeal judges seem to have done is thought about the boy and his unblemished record, making out he is not a danger to the public.

`They should be reminded that women are members of the public too and this sentence does not reflect that. I am absolutely disgusted.'

The Edinburgh-based Rape Crisis Centre said: `Lord Milligan took into account the condition and state the woman was left in.'

Lord Milligan jailed McMillan for life earlier this year at the High Court in Edinburgh after branding his crime `appallingly evil'.

But the appeal judges, led by Lord Rodger, the Lord Justice General, ruled that was `excessive' and replaced it with a nine-year sentence.

Ironically, the decision comes just weeks after the previous Lord Justice General, Lord Hope, quadrupled 18 month sentences imposed on two teenage killers by Lord Rodger.

Robert McQueen, 16, and William McCluskie, 15, both from Larkhall, were each given six years' detention after the Crown appealed against the original sentences imposed by Lord Rodger for kicking and punching a 58-year-old man to death in an unprovoked attack.

In the latest case, Lord Milligan recommended that McMillan should not even be considered for release until he served six years.

But lawyers acting for McMillan, an unemployed hotel worker from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, challenged Lord Milligan's sentence.

His counsel Margaret Scott argued that the previous incidents, where he broke into houses, were irrelevant as there was no suggestion of violence or sexual offending. Medical reports showed McMillan was not suffering from mental illness.

Lord Cullen, who gave the opinion of the appeal court, said: `We accept that the imposition of life imprisonment is a form of sentence which requires to be considered with great care having regard to the particular nature of that disposal and its consequences for the appellant. …