Double jeopardy

Photo by Kim Traynor available at

Angus Robertson Sinclair: a life of crime

On Monday 11 March 2019, it was announced that Angus Sinclair, one of Scotland’s most notorious serial killers, had died in HM Prison Glenochil.

In 1961, Sinclair had been convicted of the culpable homicide of 8 year old, Catherine Reehill in Glasgow. He was then 16 years old and served 6 years in prison for the killing. In 1982, Sinclair was convicted of 11 out of 13 charges (3 rape, 7 indecent assault and 1 breach of the peace charges) for which he received a life sentence.

In 2001, while still serving the sentence imposed in 1982, Sinclair was convicted of the homicide of 17 year old Mary Gallacher. This murder had been committed in 1978. He was also suspected of murdering 4 other women between 1977 and 1978.

Double jeopardy

Sinclair’s crimes were particularly gruesome, but he may well be remembered for something else. Two of his crimes led to an historic change in Scottish criminal procedure: the abolition of the centuries’ old double jeopardy rule.

Double jeopardy was an enduring principle of Scots criminal law which meant that an accused person could not face a fresh trial for an offence which s/he had undergone a prosecution and been acquitted. Such persons were described as ‘having tholed their assize’ and, even if new evidence (which assisted the prosecutor) was to emerge after an acquittal or if the charges had been withdrawn during the trial, there could be no new prosecution.

The Scottish Government introduced a Bill to the Scottish Parliament to overturn this practice. The law eventually came into force as the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011.

The World’s End Murders

Angus Sinclair was the first person in Scotland to undergo a retrial under the Act for two homicides that he had committed in 1977. These homicides were christened (rather luridly) as the World’s End murders. The World’s End was an Edinburgh public house where the two victims (Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, both aged 17) were last seen alive. Sinclair was prosecuted in 2007 for the murder of the two girls, but the prosecution case collapsed (see HMA v Angus Robertson Sinclair [2007]). His brother-in-law, Gordon Hamilton was also suspected of being Sinclair’s accomplice in the killings, but he had died (in 1996) before he could be prosecuted.

Following the discovery of new DNA evidence, Sinclair was retried and successfully prosecuted for a second time by the Crown Office for the World’s End murders in November 2014 (see HMA v Angus Robertson Sinclair [2014] HJAC 131).

Lord Matthews, the presiding judge in the High Court of Justiciary sentenced Sinclair to minimum term of 37 years in prison. This, of course, was the minimum sentence that Sinclair would have had to serve before he was eligible to apply for parole. In any event, Sinclair managed to serve just over 4 years before his death at the start of this week.


In England, of course, the double jeopardy rule was consigned to history somewhat earlier in the wake of the outcry surrounding the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence (in 1993). The second Labour Government of Prime Minister Blair (2001-2005) ensured the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 through the Westminster Parliament to ensure this objective. Until then double jeopardy, as a legal principle, had existed in England for nearly 800 years.

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 15 March 2019

Published by


A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s