A recently-released prisoner who detained a young girl against her will while intoxicated on alcohol and so-called legal highs has been sentenced to two years in jail.
Sarah Irvine, 31, was told by Sheriff Philip Mann that for the family of the girl she had “exploded… the idea that Shetland is a safe place to bring up your kids”.
Irvine, whose address was given as Grampian Prison on court papers, appeared in the dock at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday. She had earlier pleaded guilty to the offence, which occurred at the Sandveien play park and elsewhere around the housing scheme on 17th April at around 6.30pm.
The court heard that the incident, which came just days after Irvine was released from prison, saw Irvine take the girl from the Sandveien play park to a nearby unoccupied house in view of a number of other children who were distressed by the event.
But defence agent Tommy Allan said that Irvine, as a mother herself, could not fathom “the idea that she would cause harm to anyone else’s children”.
However, he noted that she was unable to give her own account of the events because the quantity of substances she had used at the time – including alcohol, so-called legal highs and possibly other illicit substances – had left her without any recollection of the events.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie told the court that the offence was “one of the most serious” incidents of a breach of the peace that he had ever dealt with.
He said that the children present, aged between five and ten, had noticed Irvine in the area and were aware that she was “obviously very drunk”.
Some of the children were “frightened of her appearance and demeanour” and had run to hide from her when they saw her approaching the play park, he added.
Mr MacKenzie then said: “At this time the main complainant [the seven-year-old girl] was just outside the gates of the play park when the accused approached.”
Some of the other children who had run away saw Irvine grab the girl, lifting her off the ground. A young boy later told police that the girl struggled with Irvine before being taken into a nearby alleyway.
It was at this point that the boy “realised that what was happening was very wrong”, recognising that the girl “was in danger.”
The occupant of a nearby property was alerted to the situation by one of the children and that adult then went to find Irvine and the girl.
While this was happening Irvine was attempting to gain access to an unoccupied property which she was aware would have been vacant, the former occupant later told police. At this time the concerned adult found Irvine and the young girl.
“The witness told the young girl to come to her,” Mr MacKenzie said, and while this was happening Irvine “mentioned something” about taking the girl away from the “bad boys”.
Meanwhile, police who had been called by people concerned about Irvine’s drunken behaviour arrived on the scene, apprehending her.
Mr MacKenzie added that a victim impact statement revealed that the event had had a “significant effect on the young girl, her family and the other children who witnessed this incident”.
Defence agent Tommy Allan said that Irvine had started drinking because of an upcoming social work report.
Irvine believed, “rightly or wrongly” that the appointment would result in her access to her daughter being limited and started to drink in order to cope with the stress.
Mr Allan pointed out that the cocktail of substances she used left her with no memory of the evening.
“When she spoke to me in the cells the following day she was still not able to function properly,” Mr Allan added.
He said that Irvine’s behaviour had been “at best, bizarre” in the time leading up to the offence, and pointed out that both the distance travelled with the girl and the time of the offence was “short”.
Mr Allan pointed out that “there was no opposition” from Irvine when the adult witness called the girl away from Irvine.
He also said that the case should be looked at “in a proper way”, noting that it was a case of “a drunk person walking past a play park and doing something stupid”.
Sheriff Mann told Irvine, who had earlier been described as a “chronic alcoholic”, that she had succumbed to “the demon drink”.
“The bottom line is that although you may feel compelled, an irresistible temptation, to drink, the fact is that you choose to drink.”
He added: “I wish I had a magic wand for you, but I don’t.”
Sheriff Mann told Irvine that although she may not have intended to “cause harm or distress” he would have to treat her case like an assault where the extent of the injuries came about by “chance, rather than by intention”.
He sentenced her to two years for the offence, backdated three months to reflect the period of time she has been remanded in custody.
Irvine was also given an additional nine months, taken from the time she still had to serve for the previous offence when she was released from prison early.