Convicted murderer who attacked prison guard has sentence increased

A convicted murderer who threw boiling water at a female prison officer has had a jail term increased by appeal judges.

William Johnstone, 41, had been given a three-year jail term by a judge at Durham Crown Court after admitting attempting to cause grievous bodily harm which an inmate at Durham Prison.

But three appeal judges on Tuesday increased that term to five years after concluding that it was unduly lenient at a Court of Appeal hearing in London.

They considered Johnstone’s case after lawyers representing Solicitor General Alex Chalk argued that the three-year term handed down by Judge Ray Singh was unduly lenient.

The officer had suffered burns to her back after Johnson threw water from a kettle at Durham Prison in April 2020, they were told.

The Royal Courts of Justice (Nick Ansell/PA)
The Royal Courts of Justice (Nick Ansell/PA)

Appeal judges heard that Johnstone, who has mental health problems, had been given a life sentence in 2002 after being convicted of murdering Sandra Black, his mother’s female partner, at a hearing in Newcastle Crown Court.

A judge ruled that he should serve 14 years before being eligible for parole.

Johnstone, who had lived in Gateshead, had been given another life term in 2006 after being convicted of a slashing attack on a fellow prisoner.

A judge had ruled that he should serve at least three years before being eligible for parole.

Appeal judges heard that he had served those minimum terms and become eligible for parole.

They were told that Johnstone had a history of violence, had 11 previous convictions for 22 offences and concluded that he continued to pose a risk.

Lord Justice Fulford, who headed the appeal judges’ panel, said: “He clearly does pose a risk to prison officers and other inmates and members of the public when at large.”

Mr Chalk said after the appeal court hearing: “Johnstone’s act was a cowardly attack on a committed public servant acting in the execution of her duty.

“I want to make it clear that attacks on public servants, who protect society and deliver services on our behalf, should be met with appropriate prison sentences.

“I am glad that the Court of Appeal chose to increase his sentence today.”