Judge jails two men for life over Liam Aitchison murder

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

A High Court judge in Edinburgh, Scotland yesterday sentenced two men to life imprisonment for the murder of 16-year-old male Liam Aitchison in the Outer Hebrides.

22-year-old males Jonathan MacKinnon and Stefan Millar were found guilty of Aitchison's murder at the High Court in Glasgow on June 3. Judge Lord Kinclaven yesterday ordered both MacKinnon and Millar to serve at least eighteen years imprisonment before becoming eligible to apply for parole. Lord Kinclaven told MacKinnon and Millar they had committed "the brutal murder of a young man who was only 16 years of age".

They killed an innocent boy in cold blood but, by the time they leave jail, they will still be young enough to make plans for the rest of their lives

Claire Aitchison, step-mother of Liam Aitchison

The two convicted reportedly murdered Aitchison on November 23, 2011, inside an abandoned building in Steinish, a village located on the island of Lewis. Aitchison, who had originally resided in Lochboisdale on the island of South Uist, moved up to Stornoway in Lewis and began working as a fisherman alongside MacKinnon and Millar, developing a social relationship with them. MacKinnon and Millar pled not guilty to the charges of murder, which police had charged them with in December 2011. Judge Lord Kinclaven presided over the subsequent court trial, which started approximately two months ago.

Aitchison and Millar were listening to music and drinking alongside MacKinnon in his residence on November 22, 2011 and MacKinnon punched Aitchison as "a joke" during this visit, the court was told. The three walked from the house upon receiving noise complaints from MacKinnon's mother. The court was told MacKinnon commenced fighting with Aitchison when a bottle of aftershave he had apparently stolen from MacKinnon dropped from his pocket. Prior to the murder, MacKinnon had stolen a meat cleaver from a boat he was working on and had been keeping it in his bedroom, the court was also told. The exact motive for the murder is unclear thus far.

Location of the Outer Hebrides within Scotland.
Image: Barryob.

Aitchison died when he was stabbed twenty times, as well as being hit with a bottle and stomped on his head. Some items of clothing he was wearing, that he had borrowed from MacKinnon, were removed from his body following the killing. There were no reports during the trial of any trace of the items of clothing being discovered, nor did police recover any murder weapons. The trial was predominantly inferential due to a lack of solid physical evidence.

Aitchison was likely murdered within a 90 minute period on November 23, 2011, during a "communication silence" in which neither of the accused made use of their mobile phones, the prosecution believed. Blood stains were not discovered on the clothing of the suspects, although blood stains discovered at the scene of the murder matched MacKinnon's DNA. However, the court was also told MacKinnon had previously cut his hand in the abandoned building several years prior and the blood stains could not be dated. A key piece of evidence in the trial came from Dominic Long, who recalled how Millar boasted about the murder while conversing with him in a jail. Frances McMenamin, QC for Millar, subsequently claimed Long had exaggerated in his recount and was an unreliable witness as he suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Aitchison's father Norrie said following the guilty verdicts MacKinnon and Millar were given would "finally allow Liam to rest in peace and bring his family some closure." He called this murder case one which "no family should have to endure", additionally commenting of the convicted: "The cowards who robbed our Liam of his life and his future should never be able to see the outside of a prison ever again."

Following the sentencing, Claire Aitchison, Liam Aitchison's step-mother, said: "We are happy that justice has been done and that these two brutal murderers will spend a long time in prison." However, she criticised the sentences given, saying "they are getting off lightly — life imprisonment should mean life. They killed an innocent boy in cold blood but, by the time they leave jail, they will still be young enough to make plans for the rest of their lives." Claire and her husband Norrie had criticised the Scottish legal system after the guilty verdicts were given for the way it could allow murder suspects to be granted bail after MacKinnon and Millar were both granted bail in February 2012 and December 2011 respectively. "We want to head up a campaign to keep anyone that is charged with murder on remand until proven innocent or guilty," Norrie Aitchison said.

In a statement, Detective Inspector Andy Logan, the senior investigator of Aitchison's murder, said the crime had "caused considerable distress in such a small community." He also said "Liam's family have also had to cope with the loss Liam in the most tragic of circumstances and hopefully [these] sentences will help to reassure the community and help the family in coming to terms with their terrible loss." North of Scotland procurator fiscal Liam Murphy said Aitchison's murder "caused shock and concern in this small community of Lewis and across Scotland" but stressed there was a low murder rate in this region. "I hope that these murder convictions reassure those communities that when we do have such crimes, justice will be done," he added.

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