NI Crown Court: ‘Self-centred’ murderer with 51 prior convictions ineligible for parole for at least 21 years

NI Crown Court: ‘Self-centred’ murderer with 51 prior convictions ineligible for parole for at least 21 years

Northern Ireland’s Crown Court has ruled that a “self-centred” murderer with 51 prior convictions will not be eligible for parole for at least 21 years.

The court examined the violence of the murder, and the state of the defendant, determining that both were aggravating factors, which warranted extending the period before parole.

The court noted that a guilty plea, although traditionally seen as a mitigating factor, will be considered in light of the circumstances of the case. Here, a guilty plea which was wholly “self-serving” only led to a small reduction in the parole window.


Alice Morrow was murdered by the defendant on Sunday 10 March 2019. She was naked and appeared lifeless with evidence of multiple injuries to her body; 71 injuries were later confirmed by post-mortem. She was 53 years of age.

William Hutchison pleaded guilty to the murder of Alice Morrow and received a sentence of life imprisonment. The purpose of these proceedings was to determine the period of time he must remain in custody before being considered by the Parole Commissioners for release.

The judge stressed that his release will not be automatic, and once released he will remain subject to licence conditions which will remain in force for the remainder of his life.

Time period before parole can be considered

The court made reference to R v McCandless & Others [2004] NICA 1, which notes that the “normal starting point of 12 years” will be applied for a murder conviction, after which time parole can be considered. This starting point can be reduced because the murder is one where the offender’s culpability is significantly reduced, such as:

  1. the case came close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter;
  2. the offender suffered from a mental disorder, or from a mental disability which lowered the degree of his criminal responsibility for the killing, although not affording a defence of diminished responsibility;
  3. the offender was provoked (in a non-technical sense), such as by prolonged and eventually unsupportable stress;
  4. the case involved an overreaction in self-defence; or
  5. the offence was a mercy killing.

These factors could justify a reduction to eight/nine years.

Higher starting point for parole

A higher starting point of 15/16 years applies where the offender’s culpability was exceptionally high or the victim was in a particularly vulnerable position, meaning that the crime was especially serious, such as:

  1. the killing was ‘professional’ or a contract killing;
  2. the killing was politically motivated;
  3. the killing was done for gain (in the course of a burglary, robbery etc.);
  4. the killing was intended to defeat the ends of justice (as in the killing of a witness or potential witness);
  5. the victim was providing a public service;
  6. the victim was a child or was otherwise vulnerable;
  7. the killing was racially aggravated;
  8. the victim was deliberately targeted because of his or her religion or sexual orientation;
  9. there was evidence of sadism, gratuitous violence or sexual maltreatment, humiliation or degradation of the victim before the killing;
  10. extensive and/or multiple injuries were inflicted on the victim before death; or
  11. the offender committed multiple murders.

In this case, points (f), (i) and (j) all applied to the murder at hand.

Variation of the starting point

Whether the normal or higher starting point is selected, the judge can vary the period, adding or taking time off these standards. This is commonly done for crimes involving aggravating factors, such as:

  1. the fact that the killing was planned;
  2. the use of a firearm;
  3. arming with a weapon in advance;
  4. concealment of the body, destruction of the crime scene and/or dismemberment of the body; or
  5. domestic violence cases.

Very serious cases, such as those involving serial killings, may have a parole option beginning after 30 years, or in exceptional cases the judge may state that there is no minimum period which could properly be set.

In this case, the court also referenced the accused’s lack of empathy towards the family of the victim. The judge noted that this case was “made all the more painful by the defendant’s protracted efforts to drag out the legal process before finally admitting his guilt on the morning of his trial”.

Determining the starting point

The defence argued that the starting point should be at the lower end, because the defendant’s drug dependency diminished his responsibility, and his intention was to cause grievous bodily harm, not to kill.

The judge rejected these grounds, noting that a telephone confession made immediately after the murder proved that his mental state was not so impacted as to misunderstand his actions. In fact, the judge found the defendant’s mental state to be aggravating factors, rather than mitigating ones.

As such, the judge determined that the appropriate starting point for the minimum period before parole could be considered was 15/16 years. Then, taking aggravating factors into account, such as the fact that this case involved domestic violence, the judge increased this period to a total of 24 years.

The judge quoted R v Andrew Robinson [2006] NICA 29, to clarify that domestic violence could be relied on to both set the higher starting point of 15/16 years, and also be used as a factor for raising the overall period, here to 24 years.

Finally, the judge considered the extent to which the period should be reduced to take account of the defendant’s voluntary guilty plea. The court noted that the defendant proclaimed his innocence for eight police interviews, and two years in custody, until the day of his trial, when he pleaded guilty.

Ultimately, the judge concluded that the reduction for the guilty plea should be three years, or approximately 13 per cent of the tariff that would have applied following conviction after a contested trial.


Ultimately, the court set 21 years for the minimum term that must be served before the defendant can be considered for parole and released on licence.

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