Christmas 2017 will be the first that the Woodburn family will have to spend without their loving son Shaun, who was killed in the street in Leith on New Year’s Day.
Shaun’s family, notably his dad Kevin and grandad Oliver, have spent most of 2017 fighting for justice.
CCTV footage led to swift charges but the family had to watch as a trial which started with 17 charges, including murder, dwindle down to just three including the lesser offence of culpable homicide.
Shaun’s killer was sentenced to just four years in jail. That sentence includes time for a serious assault and an assault against other people, so the family have no actual number for what their son’s life was worth in the eyes of the courts.
That’s just one aspect of the case which has turned this family into a pioneering campaigning force and I was delighted to meet with them yesterday to see what I could do to help. In just a matter of weeks they collected more than 66,000 signatures of support for appealing the sentence the killer received – a 17-year-old man who cannot be named for legal reasons.
That appeal was rejected, so there are few, if any, avenues for the family now to pursue justice for Shaun. Yet the Woodburn family are determined to do everything they can to improve the system for future families who might suffer a similar brutal loss to the one they have endured.
At the top of their list is a demand for accountability. Nobody, no judge or prosecutor, victim support officer or, dare I say it, politician has been able or willing to explain the four-year custodial sentence to the family. Why so little?
The family believe it should be higher, of course they do. But they understand why it’s an independent judge that determines these matters rather than the media, or victims’ families.
But what they can’t understand is why no one will talk them through how the decision was determined. What was the process, what was considered and what wasn’t? They are never going to like the sentence handed down – nothing is ever going to appease the pain they
feel for the son they lost. But it’s hardly too much to ask to at least understand it.
I could use my phone right now to tell you how clean the curry house on my street is, when it was last inspected and how many stars its last 50 customers would give it out of 10. I can look up a politician’s expenses and see how much they spent on biscuits over the summer. Public records allow me to examine every planning application for miles. Companies House lets me identify a firm’s profits. I can a school’s exam results. I can check the quality of care at my grandad’s care home, all at the touch of a button.
There is so much open available data about so many aspects of our lives – why on Earth can’t I find out more about what went on inside a judge’s head?
To be clear – no one, not even the Woodburn family, are questioning the independence of the judiciary. But that doesn’t mean we can’t in this modern world ask hard questions about the process.
Understanding is such a huge part of accepting and I for one will be standing with the Woodburn family until they have the answers they need to guide them to peace.
This was first published in the Daily Record newspaper on the 19th of December 2017.