A convicted paedophile who failed to get medical attention for a runaway teenager who later died has been made subject to a lifelong restriction order.
The indeterminate sentence means Derek McNeill may never qualify for release from prison unless he can satisfy the parole board he no longer presents a danger to the public.
A jury heard how the 52-year-old sex offender abandoned 13-year-old Blake Ross on a bus as the youngster became increasingly ill from type one diabetes.
He had not told anyone Blake was in his Edinburgh flat while police and members of his family searched for the teenager, who was in the care of a council-run close support unit.
McNeill was convicted under the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act with “wilfully neglecting, exposing and abandoning Blake in a way likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health”, although he was not accused of causing the boy’s death.
A jury found him guilty without knowing about his string of previous convictions because under Scots law they could only be revealed after the verdict.
Brian Gilfedder, defending, told judge Lord Weir at a sentencing hearing at the High Court in Livingston that if the court was considering lifelong restriction he was not in a position to make any submissions.
He acknowledged that McNeill posed a high risk to the public when at large and accepted that there was a significant sexual element to the offence of which he was convicted.
Passing sentence, Lord Weir told McNeill he had been convicted of cruelty to a child under the age of 16, but he added: “Even that description of the statutory offence belies the deplorable context and circumstances in which it was committed.
“Blake Ross was a vulnerable young teenager who suffered from type one diabetes. He received a range of support not only from the staff at his place of residence but also from medical staff at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh who were responsible for his diabetic care.
“In the afternoon of Saturday 11 February, 2017, he left the support unit where he stayed. Late that night he was approached by you in the Wester Hailes area, where it appears he remained until the following Monday when CCTV captured you putting him on a bus at the Westside Plaza.
“The admirable efforts thereafter of the staff of Lothian Buses and the emergency services to look after him, and to obtain the medical assistance he so urgently required, stand in depressingly marked contrast to the neglect and abuse to which you subjected Blake over what turned out to be the last two days of his short life.”
He continued: “How it was that you caused Blake to accompany you to your flat, alone, bereft of his medication in the hours of darkness, and what happened over the two days and nights he was with you, only you can say for certain.
“By its verdict, however, it is clear that the jury were satisfied that you were aware of his runaway status, age and vulnerability; that the condition of your flat was wholly unfit to accommodate anyone with Blake’s vulnerabilities, that there was no objective justification for you, a total stranger many years his senior, to have taken Blake home with you.”
He said McNeill would have become aware of the youngster’s deteriorating medical condition over the time when Blake was in his company, but had done nothing to alert the authorities to Blake’s whereabouts or seek medical attention for him.
He said the accused must also have engaged in sexual activity in the boy’s presence.
Finally, he said, McNeill had left Blake to fend for himself on a bus at the Westside Plaza when his seriously deteriorating medical condition must have been obvious.
He told McNeill: “From the report that has been prepared for the purposes of today’s hearing it is clear that you present a very high risk of causing sexual harm to children, and that the public must be afforded protection from you.
“The nature and circumstances of the crime you were found to have committed, coupled with your record, the many risk factors identified, and the lack of any discernible protective factors, are such as to satisfy me that there is a likelihood that, if at liberty, you will seriously endanger the lives, or the physical or psychological wellbeing, of members of the public at large.
“Accordingly, in respect of charge one on the indictment, I am satisfied that the requirements for an order for lifelong restriction are met.”
For the purposes of retribution and deterrence, the judge said the punishment part of McNeill’s sentence would be four years, backdated to 20 November, 2019.
However, he told the accused: “This disposal constitutes a sentence of imprisonment for an indeterminate period.
“I must make it clear to you that this does not mean that you will be released automatically at the end of that four year period; it simply means that until that period has elapsed you cannot ask to be considered for parole.
“Even after the period comes to an end, your date of release will depend on the view that the Parole Board takes of the risks to public safety that you pose when it considers your case.
“Standing your stated intention not to engage in any offence-focussed intervention work in the future, that date (if any) may be a long time in coming.”
In addition, Lord Weir said the circumstances disclosed in the evidence satisfied him that there was “a significant sexual aspect” to the offence of which McNeill had been convicted.
He told the accused his name would remain on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely and Scottish Ministers would be notified of his conviction under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007.
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