David Gilroy sentenced live on UK television for murder of Suzanne Pilley

 

Lord Bracadale offered the age of sensationalism a masterclass today in the careful selection of words and their dignified yet powerful delivery.

So diminished is the modern currency of language that it took a moment to see beyond the bewigged solemnity of the Scottish High Court and to appreciate the austere drama unfolding as the judge handed down a life sentence to the murderer of a popular young woman.

Opponents have long resisted the introduction of court TV claiming it might damage the administration of justice by encouraging witnesses and even lawyers to act up for the cameras.

But there was never any chance of this occasion turning into an episode of Judge Judy.

Still to minimise the potential impact on the case - a particularly troubling and unsettling one for the Scottish public - just a single fixed camera was admitted.

The only cinematic flourish was a slow zoom bearing respectfully in on the granite-features of the judge where it remained throughout.

Meanwhile the reaction of the murderer and unknowable anguish of the victim's family was played out unseen to the sound of a low background hum.

Over four minutes and 40 seconds Lord Bracadale, a son of the manse who worked as an English teacher before studying to be an advocate, sketched out in sparse language the full horror of the case.

Suzanne Pilley, he said, had been moving to a new phase of her life - a chapter which no longer included her colleague, lover and soon to be killer, David Gilroy.

The 38-year-old bookkeeper had been popular and respected turning up for work as usual on a morning on 4 May 2010 where she was captured on CCTV getting off the bus and popping into Sainsbury's on Princes Street in Edinburgh.

"Then she just disappeared," explained the judge. "You murdered her and disposed of her body." Miss Pilley's remains have never been found.

"It seems you are the only person who knows where her body is. I hope that a day will come in your life when you feel able to disclose that information and that might bring some comfort to her bereft family," he said.

Lord Bracadale praised the "quiet dignity" of Miss Pilley's parents but was also required to acknowledge that Gilroy was of previous good character and that the murder was not premeditated.

Yet the killer had set about the task of covering his tracks with "quite chilling calmness and calculation," he said.

Murder carries a mandatory sentence but the judge must also impose a punishment tariff which the prisoner must serve before being eligible for release. Lord Bracadale set this at 18 years before ordering Gilroy be taken down by the court escort.

This is not the first time that a camera crew has been allowed into a Scottish Court. In 1996 a documentary team from BBC Scotland was allowed to film the sentencing of two armed robbers at the invitation of the judge Lord Ross.

Cameras were also allowed to screen proceedings at the appeal of the Lockerbie bombers in the Netherlands, where Lord Bracadale was a prosecutor at the original trial.

But few viewers will have seen anything like this before.

The Scottish Court Service has said it will consider future applications although there will continue to be tight restrictions. It is hard to see how a repeat performance could do anything but enhance the reputation of the system.

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