Justice in the dock…

11Sep06

Jennifer (Truth About Rape Campaign) gives an insight and analysis on the reporting of an horrific attack on a female walker in Scotland, and the coverage of the trial of the self-confessed woman-hating male perpetrator.

From The New Scotsman, 9 Sep 2006 (reprinted below in its entirety for reference).

JUSTICE IN THE DOCK FOLLOWING ATTACK ON WALKER
by SHÂN ROSS AND MICHAEL HOWIE

AN URGENT investigation was last night demanded into why one of Scotland’s most violent criminals was released early from prison weeks before carrying out a horrific attack that left an American tourist in a coma.

Colin Ross, a self-confessed woman-hater, yesterday admitted attacking Marty Layman-Mendonca, 57, a teacher from Vermont, with an iron bar near Inverness on 5 July. The attack occurred less than a month after Ross, 34, was released early from a three-year sentence for attacking a female holidaymaker from Germany.

Northern Constabulary were so concerned about the risk he posed to women that on 29 June – six days before the attack – they were granted a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) banning Ross from approaching women or wearing a balaclava. The order also banned him from leaving his home or the immediate area for more than 24 hours without police permission and from getting a job or voluntary work without written approval.

Yesterday, Ross admitted attacking Ms Layman-Mendonca by repeatedly striking her on her head and body with a metal pipe and a boulder, causing life threatening injuries that left her permanently disfigured and impaired, and attempting to murder her. He also admitted carrying her into a wood, dumping her and stealing her possessions before tying her wrists together with shoelaces.

And as Ms Layman-Mendonca remained seriously ill in hospital, police and politicians last night joined forces in attacking the Scottish justice system and demanding to know how the assault was allowed to happen. Margaret Mitchell, the Tory justice spokeswoman, said: “I will be writing to the Lord Advocate asking him to investigate the circumstances surrounding this case to see what lessons can be learned.”

Last night, a senior officer said police were “powerless” against lenient sentencing. He described Ross as a “very, very twisted individual who would always be a danger to women unless kept behind bars indefinitely”. The officer said: “The justice system lets the police down a lot. We can only do so much with SOPOs. You could say we are being pro-active by getting Ross on the Sex Offenders Register when he has never been convicted of a sex offence, but it has extreme limitations. People can’t be watched 24/7. The only solution in this case would be to keep him in jail.”

Ross’s behaviour became more and more aggressive over time. In July, 2003, Ross, of Inverness, was sentenced to two years’ jail for breach of the peace after being arrested as he lurked in the Culcaboch area of the city with what could have been a rape kit. It included material for hooding and tying up a victim, a balaclava, plus a sinister guide to getting into a woman’s house, ending with the chilling words “…and now the fun begins”.

In May 2004, while wearing a balaclava and gloves, Ross attacked a German holidaymaker, Ina Bruns, 36, in a forest near Cawdor Castle, outside Inverness. When arrested he was wearing her glasses. He was convicted for three years but released early on 9 June under a supervised release order. Less than a month later, despite the SOPO, he attacked Ms Layman-Mendonca.

The SNP’s justice spokesman, Kenny MacAskill, said: “This is a tragic case. There is clearly a problem with the supervision of offenders.”

John Scott, chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland, questioned the value of SOPOs, but said locking someone up forever was not the answer. “We understand the frustration of the police, but they have their part to play in the justice system too. There can never be any guarantees about how people will behave. They can only be sentenced for what they’ve done, not for what they might do.”

In court yesterday, Lord Wheatley called for a social inquiry report, and the defence will provide a report from a forensic psychologist. Ross will appear again on 3 October. But because an individual risk management plan will have to be drawn up, it could be months before he is sentenced.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Office said: “We play no role in requesting either a risk assessment or in applying for a Sexual Offences Prevention Order. The former is requested by the Scottish Prison Service and SOPOs are applied for by chief constables.”

A Scottish Executive spokesperson said: “It is not appropriate for Scottish ministers to comment on the details of an individual offender’s case. “However, public protection is a key priority for Scottish ministers and that’s why we have taken steps to tighten up release arrangements and improve the management of offenders.”

‘I wanted to hurt someone’
COLIN Ross had prepared the ambush site, hiding clean clothes, a sponge and a milk bottle full of Dettol in the undergrowth alongside a quiet path. All he needed was a victim.

On Wednesday, 5 July, she arrived. Marty Layman- Mendonca, 57, was on her third visit to Scotland – a country she described as “the most warm and welcoming place on earth” – and was walking the last six miles of her trek along the Great Glen Way when she met Ross. He followed the committed Christian for ten yards, engaged her in conversation and then went into a frenzy. He repeatedly hit her on the head with a metal pipe and a boulder before stealing her rucksack and rifling through the pockets of her walking shorts for cash. Ross then tied Ms Layman-Mendonca’s wrists with shoelaces, leaving her unconscious and bleeding heavily. He buried the boulder and threw the pipe into a pond. Ross wore the victim’s rain jacket to cover his bloodstained clothes. He used money he stole from Ms Layman-Mendonca to buy cigarettes and six cans of beer. When he got home, he changed and put his clothes in a black binbag inside a holdall, which he hid behind bushes on a secluded canal path.

Glasgow High Court yesterday heard that when Ms Layman-Mendonca failed to return, her friends contacted the police. At 6pm, a police officer and dog walked the forestry track. After 35 minutes, the dog found Ms Layman-Mendonca lying in a ditch at the side of the track. She had serious head wounds and her face was covered in blood. Her eyes were closed and the skin around them was black and blue. Her wrists were still bound tightly and the wounds were infested with flies. Ms Layman-Mendonca’s fingers were also smashed as she had tried to ward off the blows. Her cheeks, eye sockets and jaw were so distorted, lacerated and bloodied by at least 19 blows that she was barely recognisable. She was left in a coma. Even now, her horrific scalp wounds are still open.

When Ross later returned to his house in Inverness, police saw him approach. He did an about-turn when he saw them – he had just dumped Ms Layman-Mendonca’s rucksack containing his bloodstained clothes. When he was arrested, he confessed, saying: “I can’t cope on the outside. I’ve got so many anger issues. I am a danger to the public and I don’t deserve to be walking about.” He claimed cannabis had changed him, turning him into a Jekyll and Hyde character, adding: “I wanted to hurt someone, do a lot of damage to someone.”

Derek Ogg, QC, defending, revealed Ross knew that he had violent tendencies and prior to his release from jail had asked for anger-management counselling. A course was eventually arranged three weeks after his release. Ross had also repeatedly asked for drink and drugs counselling, specifically because he felt he might lapse back into his old conduct. Mr Ogg added: “Like the anger-management course, that drink and drugs counselling was not in place at the time he was released.” He said, as far as this lady was concerned, there was nothing at all in her conduct which could explain his attack. “In conversation with him, she was a person trying to be helpful. He said the violence was as if a light-switch had been turned on.”

COMMENT – MICHAEL HOWIE
UNDER the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the police can apply for a prevention order against anyone already convicted of a violent sexual crime. The order prohibits the offender from doing any specified thing considered necessary to protect the public – such as having contact with women. In theory, such orders are a good idea. However, in the case of Colin Ross, who battered a visiting American teacher almost to death, they have grave limitations.

The police were granted such an order six days before Ross committed his crime. He had just been released early from prison for a similar attack on a German tourist. A psychiatric report warned that Ross “posed a serious danger to the public, particularly women”.

Here we have a known serial offender allowed to repeat his crime. The justice system made do with the notion that a formal “order” would stop him. The order merely acted as a diversion deluding the authorities into thinking they were protecting the public. Sadly, that was not the case. Now a woman lies still seriously ill in a hospital.

It is difficult to see in this case what meaningful restrictions could have been put in place that would have stopped an attack. Detention would have. A prevention order that fails to prevent is useless, and their continued use must be questioned.

Commentary by Jennifer:
Defence Counsel, Derek Ogg attempted to excuse Colin Ross’s violent and brutal attack upon a woman walker, by telling the jury ‘although she (the woman walker) didn’t do anything to bring on such an attack’ Ross himself knew he had anger management issues and had repeatedly asked for drinks and drugs counselling. In other words, it was (apparently) a combination of uncontrollable anger, drink and drugs which were responsible for Ms. Layman-Mendonca’s violent and brutal attack. How unfortunate Ms. Layman-Mendonca herself could not be held partially responsible. After all, it is (apparently) nearly always women’s behaviour which provokes men’s violence. Men themselves are (apparently) never responsible for making the choice to commit acts of violence against women and other men. Colin Ross himself attempted to excuse his actions and accountability by claiming ‘drugs changed his behaviour by turning him into a Jekyll and Hyde character.’

In reality, many men and women too abuse drink and drugs but they do not as a matter of course commit acts of violence upon another human being. Anger itself does not cause acts of violence, instead a deliberate choice is made to commit a violent act. The difference is men are perceived as being provoked whereas women are always held accountable for their actions or for provoking a man beyond reason.

The other culprit in this case was apparently the social support system, because it failed to provide him with anger management counselling and a drinks/drugs abuse course. Although Ross actually committed this crime because he is yet another woman-hater this became marginalised and coincidental to the ‘real culprits’: uncontrollable anger, drink, drugs and a system which failed to provide him with support. Ross (apparently) is rather to be pitied than held accountable for his actions. Once again, men are excused their violent woman-hating crimes.

Notice too, how the term ‘people‘ is used in this reporting. ‘People’ conveniently invisibilises the gender of the perpetrator. Women however, are always referred to by their gender as in the case of Ms. Layman-Mendonca who was called a ‘female victim’. Likewise when women are convicted of violent crimes, they are always demonised and called ‘unnatural women’ because they have deviated from what are still perceived as ‘appropriate submissive feminine behaviour.’

The usage of the term ‘people’ when referring to men alone not women, serves two purposes. One it renders men’s violence against women invisible and secondly, by referring to women as either ‘female victim’ or ‘female perpetrator’ sends a strong warning to women. Namely, women must always be careful to ensure their behaviour, actions etc. do not CAUSE men’s violence against them and secondly, women offenders are deviants and unnatural. It is a clever and hidden form of social control over women as a group. This is used to keep women ‘in line’ and also renders ‘natural’ men’s domination and control over women as a group.

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