6th April 2020
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Bressay man jailed after 20 years of abuse

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A Bressay man has been jailed for more than three years after admitting a long list of abuse against a woman and two children, over more than 20 years.

John William Clark pleaded guilty to 13 charges, which included individual incidents and repeated behaviour over a prolonged period between 1992 and 2013 at various locations – mainly in Bressay, but also in Lerwick and elsewhere in Shetland.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank called it a case of “huge local interest” at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday, as he sentenced Clark, 52, of Schoolhouse, Bressay, to 40 months in prison.

The catalogue of abuse included assaulting the woman, locking the two girls out of a house when it was snowing, hitting one of the youngsters with a rolled-up newspaper, and hitting them with a cloth used to clean up baby sick, according to procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie.

He also kicked one of the children, jammed a car door shut on the other’s leg as they were getting out, while during another incident he grabbed one of the girls by the neck and pushed her to the floor over a disagreement about a vacuum cleaner. He also hit the same child with their own bag on a separate occasion.

One incident at Bressay Public Hall involved Clark seizing hold of the woman by the neck and pinning her against the wall, with others having to intervene.

Mr Mackenzie said that Clark would routinely swear and shout at his victims, either individually or in the presence of others, and was often aggressive to all three.

He had made threats and behaved aggressively towards his victims on various occasions, breached the peace, and caused them fear and alarm, the court heard.

Defence agent Neil Wilson said that there was no suggestion his client had controlled them, what they did and who they did it with. Mr Wilson said that Clark had been in constant employment and involved with voluntary work, and had supported the family financially.

Mr Wilson also produced 33 character references for Clark, including one written with the knowledge of what Clark had done to his victims.

Arguing against a custodial sentence, Mr Wilson said his client was unlikely to offend again and was under no illusions that he could be sent to prison on Wednesday.

Due to the complexity of the case, the court was adjourned until the afternoon for sentencing as Mr Cruickshank said he had no intention of rushing the judgment.

Arriving back, he said that after giving “careful consideration” to the arguments from both sides he had no alternative but to hand 52-year-old Clark a custodial sentence. He also issued a non-harassment order against Clark.

Commenting on the sentence, Mr Cruickshank said the case would “lead to huge local interest and there is, I have no doubt, scope for the most extreme and outrageous comments on social media. In particular, there are likely to be comments about what the appropriate sentence should be.”

“Regrettably, in the court of ‘public opinion’, there is a tendency to rush to judgement without properly considering all relevant factors. This is not how the law works, and it is not how I approach this or any other case.”

Mr Cruickshank called the charges diverse in nature and duration but stressed “the mental and psychological effects” of Clark’s conduct, which was the “true measure” of his behaviour on his victims.

There were two very different sides to Clark, according to the sheriff, the “publicly respected and community-spirited John Clark and there was the private angry, intimidating and abusive John Clark”.

Clark had dominated the victim’s “sky-line like a sometimes dormant and sometimes active volcano”, with the victims living in fear of the next “unpredictable and violent eruption of rage”.

Communities across Shetland and elsewhere would be “shocked and saddened” by the case, he said, as a “safe, loving and protective” environment was often seen as the “cornerstone of island life.”