A 29-year-old man has been found guilty of killing a stranger by picking her up and then pushing her off a pier.
Jacob Foster attacked Charmaine O’Donnell at Helensburgh Pier, in Argyll and Bute, in April 2021.
Jurors at the the High Court in Glasgow heard Ms O’Donnell, 25, suffered severe neck injuries and drowned after she was pushed into the water.
Her family said her death had “changed our lives forever”, but that justice had now been served.
Foster, who had denied murder, was convicted of culpable homicide after a trial.
His lawyers had lodged a special defence of diminished responsibility, saying he had an “abnormality of mind” at the time. Foster, from Helensburgh, suffers from a learning disability.
The trial heard that Ms O’Donnell had gone to Helensburgh with a friend, Caitlin McTaggart, on 23 April last year to enjoy the good weather.
The pair began chatting to three men fishing and Ms McTaggart, 25, said it appeared Foster was trying to get involved in the conversation.
She told the court that neither she nor Ms O’Donnell knew him.
The jurors heard there had then been a “commotion” when Ms O’Donnell was pushed over the railings at the pier and someone shouted to Ms McTaggart: “That’s your pal.”
Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC asked Ms McTaggart: “Did you say anything to Jacob?”
She replied: “I was screaming at him to help her. He just kept saying: ‘What have I done? I have taken it too far this time. I am going away for a long time’.”
What is culpable homicide?
Culpable homicide is the term used in Scots law for an offence where someone caused the death of another person by acting unlawfully but with no intention to kill.
It is different to murder where there is criminal intention, and from causing death by an accident where no-one can be blamed.
They could, for example, have assaulted someone in an attempt to injure them, but not to kill them.
There must also not have been “wicked recklessness” – which is usually based on the actions of the accused and the severity of the injuries suffered by the victim.
Deaths can also be treated as culpable homicide rather than murder if the accused was found to be of “diminished responsibility” because of some mental illness, or where there was provocation.
Anyone convicted of murder in Scotland automatically faces a life sentence, but there is no such rule for culpable homicide and people convicted of it are not always jailed.
The equivalent offence in England and Wales is manslaughter.
Stephen Cairns, who was one of the men fishing that day, told the court he remembered speaking to the women and Foster also being there.
The 42-year-old told jurors Ms O’Donnell had been standing at the railings on the edge of the pier at one stage.
He added: “I turned around and saw the accused pushing the girl over the railing.
“He pushed her with both hands.”
Ms McTaggart called 999 to get help and emergency services were sent to the scene.
PC Gary Davidson told the court that Foster had been “quite agitated and talking a lot” when he arrived at the pier.
The officer said Foster had told him: “I just pushed her, it was just a bit of fun.”
The trial also heard from several teenagers who tried to help Ms O’Donnell after she was pushed into the water.
One of them said he had noticed the woman’s shoe floating in the water and “a bit of blood”.
Foster’s lawyers had claimed that because of his mental health issues he had misunderstood an alleged remark Ms O’Donnell made about going into the water.
Sean Templeton, defending, had asked for Foster to be completely acquitted, saying: “It was a young man with learning difficulties who got it wrong.”
After the verdict, it emerged Foster had a number of previous convictions, including assaulting a staff member at a Costa coffee shop in Helensburgh in 2018.
Mr Prentice told the court Ms O’Donnell had been on furlough from her job as an assistant manager at a British Heart Foundation shop. She was due to return a week after she died.
Lord Fairley said in the “very unusual circumstances” of the case he would continue bail and adjourned for reports.
The advocate depute said: “It is clear she was much loved and her death has brought untold and continuing grief.
“She was described as a loving and selfless person.”
Ms O’Donnell’s mother, Jacqueline Gallacher, 50, and stepfather William King, 54, said they believed the jury had reached the right verdict.
“The past 15 months have been the most difficult time we have ever had to face,” they said.
“Losing Charmaine has changed our lives forever. We will never be the same again. Our hearts have been broken.
“She had her whole life ahead of her. She had a great personality and sense of humour, warming the hearts of all who met her.”
Mike Taylor, commercial director at the British Heart Foundation, said fellow workers at the charity were “devastated about the tragic death of our treasured colleague Charmaine O’Donnell”.
He added: “Charmaine made an incredible contribution to the BHF over many years, rising from apprentice to assistant manager of our Glasgow Union Street shop, and was an integral member of our team.
“We’re continuing to support all our colleagues and volunteers through this extremely difficult time, and our thoughts are with Charmaine’s friends and family.”