HAVING been released early from a five-year sentence for armed robbery, James Watson thought he was entitled to a night of celebration.
He knocked back alcohol and played pool with brother Paul and their friend Gary Sim – as the trio made the most of James’ new-found freedom.
Today, however, all three are beginning life behind bars after their night of exuberance turned into one of tragedy, leaving another man, one who had no interest in any sort of trouble, dead – all because of a row over a game of pool.
James Watson, 27, had been out of prison for just a week after being jailed in January 2012 for his role in a raid on a grocer’s shop in Lochend Road South the previous May.
In that case he and an accomplice threatened a grocer with a knife, leaving a 12-year-old boy terrified, before fleeing with a haul of cigarettes and beer. He then carried out a sickening attack – punching a man’s teeth out and dragging a woman along the road.
On September 19 last year, he joined 29-year-old Paul and Sim, 21, in the Tor pub in Restalrig Road as he tasted freedom after serving half his sentence. But once there, trouble began and Thomas Lamb – who was himself celebrating, having just turned 46 – was attacked by Sim.
[Thomas Lamb] was very well known, kept himself to himself. He was not somebody who caused the police any concern and he was a law-abiding citizenDetective Chief Inspector Keith Hardie
Later that evening, the threesome – who have a string of previous convictions – confronted Mr Lamb in the street at Restalrig Circus.
Stunned residents heard the men shouting during the horrific attack. One witness told the High Court in Edinburgh that she heard one of the attackers ask: “Will I finish him off?”
The three men kicked and jumped on Mr Lamb’s head before repeatedly stabbing him with a garden fork and knife.
They were all convicted of murder following a trial yesterday, before Judge Lord McEwan sent them to jail for life – with each ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years before they are eligible to apply for parole.
Detective Chief Inspector Keith Hardie, who led the investigation into Mr Lamb’s murder, today described the killing as “senseless and violent”.
He said: “The fact that all three of them were found guilty of Tommy’s murder, and also the sentences, reflect that we can’t accept that type of behaviour in society.
“He was quite an accomplished pool player. There was some form of disagreement, and I have to say it was dealt with particularly well by staff in the pub, and Tommy left to go home and he was pursued by one of the three, and ultimately by all of the three. It started over a minor disagreement around a game of pool.
“He was very well known, kept himself to himself. He was not somebody who caused the police any concern and he was a law-abiding citizen.
“[James Watson] doesn’t deserve to be in the community.
“I understand he had been out for a matter of days, and within that time he was back in police custody and charged with the most serious offence.
“There’s no place for people like that.
“Certainly I know the judge commented on all three of their previous convictions. I guess it was a factor in how serious their sentences were.”
The three men had spent the three-week trial denying that they had murdered Mr Lamb. But prosecutors had managed to compile enough forensic and eyewitness evidence to prove their guilt.
During proceedings, witness Sandra Swannie, 53, told advocate depute Tim Niven Smith that she phoned police from her home in Restalrig Circus after hearing a voice shout: “Will I finish him off?”
Another witness, Raymond Strachan, 24, told the court that he saw a man being repeatedly kicked as if he was like a “football”, from the window of his property in Restalrig Circus.
He rushed out and told the court that when he got to the man’s side, he noticed that a garden fork was lying on top of him.
He also noticed that the man’s head was on the handle of a knife and that his face was covered in blood. This prompted him to phone 999.
When detectives came to ask Mr Strachan to describe the assault on the man, he told them about the kicks that he had seen.
He told them: “They were forceful kicks – like somebody kicking a football as hard as they could.”
The man lying on the ground was Thomas Lamb.
The former Leith Academy pupil lived in Restalrig Circus, helping to care for his father, John – who died just weeks after his son’s murder – and his mother, Margo, who lives in the Inch.
He had suffered several tragedies in his life, losing his 16-year-old daughter and sister in the years leading up to his murder.
One friend told the News: “Tam just lived for going and playing pool. He was very popular with everybody, just a really nice guy who would have never got into a fight or cause any trouble.
“He had been a regular at the Tor for 20 years at least. He was a big Hibs supporter.”
Following the guilty verdict yesterday, it emerged that all three men had previous convictions for assault and violence.
Passing sentence, the judge said: “This was a wanton, despicable and disgraceful attack in the streets of Edinburgh which was undoubtedly fuelled by alcohol.
“None of you are of good character. Sim, you have a deplorable record. The penalty is fixed by law to be life. As I cannot distinguish between any of you, I shall impose the punishment part of the sentence to be 20 years.”
Prosecutor Mr Niven Smith told the court the Crown had concluded that they had gone to the Tor to celebrate James Watson’s release from jail.
Mr Smith added: “It is the Crown’s belief that Watson had gone to the public house with his two co-accused to celebrate his release from prison.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said the case proved that rules which allow most prisoners to be freed after serving half their sentence should be changed.
He said: “This individual [James Watson] proved with his actions that he was nowhere near ready for release. And this is exactly why we’ve been trying to persuade the Scottish Government to end automatic early release for all prisoners.
“The victim’s family will be understandably thinking, had he served his punishment in full, their loved one may still be alive today.”
‘Danger to the public’
Mohammed Iqbal was looking after his convenience store with a 12-year-old boy when James Watson and sidekick Paul Davidson entered his grocer’s, in Lochend Road South, brandishing a knife.
Watson kicked and smashed a door next to the counter before grabbing cigarettes, while Davidson stole beer and wine from a nearby fridge.
Just hours after the robbery at Pond’s Mini Market, the thugs carried out a street attack in a neighbouring road, where they punched a man’s front teeth out and dragged a woman along the ground.
At the time of Watson’s sentencing in 2012, judge Lord Pentland told the thug: “You are a danger to a public who must be protected.”
Father did not live to see justice served
Thomas Lamb’s devastated father sadly did not live to see justice for his son, as he died shortly after the murder.
John Lamb, who lived at Restalrig Circus with his son, had been in poor health for some time.
His estranged wife, Margo, who lives in the Inch, is said to be heartbroken by her only son’s death.
DCI Keith Hardie, who led the investigation into Mr Lamb’s murder, said that the sentences of the trio brought “some form of closure” to the family.
He said: “It’s only when you experience it first time that you realise how traumatic it is for the family and how it has an everlasting effect on them.
“If you’re from the inside looking in, people tend to forget with the passage of time, but it remains with the family.
“Unfortunately his dad has passed away since the murder which is disappointing, because I’m sure he would have gained some form of closure or satisfaction around the result. In my opinion, his mother will never recover.”
In a family statement released by Police Scotland at the time of Mr Lamb’s murder, his parents said: “Our son Thomas was a lovely, caring, thoughtful son. He would help anyone who needed help.”