Creating a fairer Britain
On 12 December 2007 Laura Milne, a young woman with learning disabilities, was at a flat in Aberdeen with three people, Stuart Jack, Debbie Buchan and Leigh Mackinnon. Buchan had previously bullied Laura when they were at school together. She had also been present on another occasion in 2006 when Laura had been assaulted with a golf club.
That night all four had been drinking alcohol when an argument ensued. Laura was punched, kicked and stamped on and forced to drink a glass of urine. Mackinnon and Buchan are said to have demanded that Jack ‘finish her off’. Jack repeatedly slashed Laura’s throat with a kitchen knife. He later said that he enjoyed cutting her throat and that he had murdered her because she was ‘worthless’.
On 16 December Jack and Buchan returned to the flat and attempted unsuccessfully to dismember Laura’s body by hacking at her neck and legs. They then hid her body in a cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. The following day Laura was reported as a missing person to Grampian Police by staff at the Stopover project, where she lived. Her body was found at the flat two days later.
Laura lived an unsettled life, drinking heavily and living at various supported accommodation projects. She had few long-term friends.
Laura had a long history of contact with the police and criminal justice system, much of it related to her heavy drinking and misuse of the 999 number. Laura was charged by the police for misuse of 999. They also completed an ‘adult at risk’ (OPS 12/1) form following her silent 999 calls and forwarded it to social services. Aberdeen City Council could not confirm whether that form was received or whether any action was taken as a result.
At the time of her murder, Laura was subject to a three year probation order. She had a criminal justice social worker who tried to keep contact weekly due to Laura’s high level of need, but her attendance was erratic. Laura also had a social worker, but Aberdeenshire Council social services closed her case in November 2007 due to ‘lack of engagement’.
Two of the three perpetrators also had contact with the police and social services. Buchan was subject to a probation order at the time of Laura’s murder. She had a social worker, who was concerned that Buchan was at risk of harm. MacKinnon was also subject to court orders and family therapy had been recommended.
All three people involved in Laura’s murder were convicted. Jack admitted murder and was sentenced to 18 years. Buchan and Mackinnon admitted attempted murder and were sentenced to nine years and nine years and four months respectively.
The Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act (2009) was not introduced until some time after this case and so the offences could not have been prosecuted as hate crime. At the hearing we discussed whether Laura’s murder would now be recognised as a disability hate crime. Fred McBride, director of social care and wellbeing at Aberdeen City Council, said: ‘There is some debate as to whether Stuart Jack, who made some derogatory comments about Laura... whether he saw her as worthless because she had some level of disability... only he knows that, I suppose.’ 
1 Inquiry hearings, 22/02/11.
No formal review of Laura’s death was conducted by the agencies involved.
Laura’s death took place just over a year after a very serious sexual and physical assault in similar circumstances in the same area on another young woman with learning difficulties. Although the young woman survived the attack, she was permanently disfigured.
A review was conducted in the earlier case. The perpetrators were all known to criminal justice services and all were subject to social work input at the time of the offence. The review was undertaken in the months leading up to Laura’s death and was published just two days after Laura’s murder, before her body had been found. It made recommendations about how to handle those within the criminal justice system who also had needs of a social or medical nature. However the review seems to have been conducted on a single agency (social services) rather than multi-agency basis. As a result, other agencies were not engaged in considering how to protect other young women with learning disabilities at risk of harm. When agencies were asked about it at an inquiry hearing, only social services were aware of the report or the case.
Agencies suggested that their response to the risks faced by someone like Laura would be much better now as a result of the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act (2007), which was passed by the Scottish Government in February 2007 but not implemented until October 2008. For example, the police have better procedures for informing the council when an adult at risk comes to their attention and the council maintain a ‘vulnerable persons’ database. Adult support and protection plans are put in place for adults at risk of harm.