Thursday


Ann Whittle 's shocking murder over parking space


Norman Whittle

Every day, 69-year-old Norman Whittle walked from his home in the Scottish town of Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, to tell his wife Ann what was happening in his life.

Old habits died hard. Norman and Ann had been happily married for 38 years and told each other everything. Then, in June 2004, Ann, a fit 57-year-old, died after being attacked at a Glasgow Sunday morning car boot sale and was buried in nearby Coatbridge cemetery.

"I take flowers and talk to her," Norman Whittle said. "That sounds daft, doesn't it? But it's all I have left of her now. And now finally I was able to tell her that although justice has not really been done, we have got somewhere at last."

A year after Ann's death, in a campaign that made headlines around the world, Norman and his family finally overturned a court decision which had allowed the woman responsible to walk free from court.

And her companion, who beat up Norman until he had a heart attack, also walked free after getting a six-month suspended sentence. Declaring the sentences to be a grotesque travesty of justice, Norman and his children, Julie, 27, Craig, 35 and Laura 22, set about campaigning to put Ann's attackers behind bars.

Standing at her graveside, Norman vowed: "I'll make sure they pay for what they did to you." And finally he did.

The Whittle family's nightmare began in June 2004 when Norman and Ann left home on a sunny Sunday morning looking forward to hunting for bargains at a nearby car boot sale attended by up to 10,000 people at a site in Blochaim Road, Glasgow. 

As they approached the crowded site, Ann began looking for a parking space. When another driver signalled that he was leaving, Ann jumped out of the car to direct Norman into the space. No one could have predicted the shocking act of violence which followed.

A blue 4x4 station wagon swung into view and according to witnesses a dark-haired woman got out and began screaming and swearing at Ann and claiming that the space was hers. As Ann stood her ground, the woman grabbed her by the hair and punched and kicked her.

Horrified, Norman rushed to his wife's defence but he was attacked by the driver of the 4x4 and kicked and punched until he fell to the ground.

He remembered: "Ann suddenly crumpled and fell onto the road. She was going blue and was unconscious. I managed to get to her and cradled her in my arms.

"I couldn't find her pulse. Then paramedics arrived but I knew she was dead. Minutes later I collapsed and was taken to hospital too." Ann Whittle had suffered a fatal heart attack. Later that day, Carol McMillan, 35, was charged with culpable homicide and her partner Charles Freeburn, 34, was accused of causing grievous bodily harm.

Life without Ann was unbearable for Norman Whittle, a retired joiner and ex-merchant seaman. The couple had done everything together and had just arranged a cruise holiday. All he could hope for was that justice would be done and that the couple who had taken his wife's life and wrecked his would feel the full weight of the law.

But they didn't. When Carol McMillan appeared before the judge, Lady Dorrian, in Glasgow High Court six months later the sentence of three years probation and 240 hours community service caused uproar in court. Charles Freeburn received a six month suspended sentence and also walked free.

Saying that the cases could be dealt with by an alternative to custody, Lady Dorrian said that she was satisfied that McMillan was "genuinely and deeply remorseful" and posed a very low risk of reoffending having previously led a "harmless life." Freeburn too, said the judge, has a previously good character.

Norman Whittle and his family were appalled. "I was expecting at least five years for her and two years minimum for him," he said outside the court. "My head is spinning. This isn't justice. For Ann's sake we can't leave things as they are."

As a result, friends, relatives and neighbours launched the Justice For Ann Whittle campaign, plastering the streets with posters.  Local politicians called for the case to be reviewed and Coatbridge MP Tom Clarke described the sentences as "flawed and unacceptable."

A petition collected 30,000 signatures which were sent to the Crown Office in Edinburgh and three weeks later came the announcement that an appeal would be allowed and that the Crown would contest the sentences. 

When the case came before the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh, Norman Whittle told the press before the hearing: "Ann was kicked to death and her killer walked free with a slap on the wrist. We demand to see her killer jailed."

The family were in the public gallery to hear Crown counsel Brian McConnachie tell the appeal judges how Carol McMillan had assaulted Ann Whittle so violently that she suffered a fatal heart attack. And that Lady Dorrian had decided not to jail her on the basis of the remorse she was said to have shown.

Brian McConnachie told the court: "While the victim, Mrs Whittle, was literally dying in the street, Carol McMillan sat on the bonnet of Mr Whittle's car and called the police, claiming that she was being assaulted by Mr Whittle.

"At that time there was absolutely no evidence of any remorse from Carol McMillan." For her defence, the court was told that Carol McMillan "is punishing herself for her actions. She is now a virtual recluse and a prisoner in her own home.

"She will be sorry for what she did for the rest of her life."

But the court thought otherwise. Announcing the appeal judges' decision, Lord Cullen declared: "We believe that McMillan's original sentence was unduly lenient and there is no alternative to a custodial sentence." He then jailed Carol McMillan for four years.  

Norman Whittle recalled: "We hugged each other in court. Outside there was cheering and congratulations from perfect strangers who had been appalled that that woman had literally got away with murder. 

"That night I sat in the home Ann and I had made together and thought.

Four years wasn't enough and it wouldn't bring Ann back. But it was something.

"But what about Charles Freeburn? He kicked and punched me as I ran to try to save Ann.

When I was being punched I could hear her shouting: 'Leave us alone. We've not done any harm.' "I shouted at Freeburn: 'You've killed my wife,' but he just sneered. Then he said: 'That's right. She deserved it,' and walked away." But an appeal to have Charles Freeburn's sentence overturned and replaced with a jail term was unsuccessful and today Norman Whittle and his family are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The Coatbridge house remains immaculate, as Ann would have kept it, and Norman takes his grandchildren to church every Sunday, as he did when Ann was alive.

"I am delighted that Carol McMillan is in jail," he said.

"But our campaign won't stop. We intend to fight for other victims similar to Ann. Nothing will bring her back.

The memory of all those happy years gives me the strength to fight on every day."       


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