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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence