Life sentence warning for sex offender who abandoned diabetic boy, 13, on Edinburgh bus before he died

A convicted sex offender was warned he could face a life sentence after preying on a vulnerable boy who he abandoned on a bus in Edinburgh before the child's death.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 4:30 pm
Blake Ross (left) was abandoned on the bus by McNeill (pictured right).
Blake Ross (left) was abandoned on the bus by McNeill (pictured right).

Derek McNeill approached 13-year-old Blake Ross after he went missing from a children's unit and took him back to his squalid flat in the Wester Hailes area of the city.

McNeill, 52, carried out sexual activity in the presence of the teenager who had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The sex offender failed to get medical help for him as his condition deteriorated in the absence of insulin.

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After spending two nights at McNeill's home in Barn Park he accompanied the boy to a bus stop and left him on a bus unsupervised. Blake travelled on two buses and was seen slumping down at a bus stop.

He had been reported as a missing person and was later taken to The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh but died following complications from diabetes. He did not have access to timely medical treatment and developed ketoacidosis.

McNeill was convicted of wilfully neglecting, exposing and abandoning the boy in a way likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health between February 11 and 13 in 2017.

He had denied the offence under the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act but was unanimously found guilty of the crime.

A jury at the High Court in Edinburgh also unanimously convicted him of a second charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice between February 14 and March 6 in 2017 after giving false information to the police.

A judge told McNeill that the neglect charge was "a very concerning offence".

Lord Weir ordered that a full risk assessment order should be prepared on him which can lead to the imposition of an Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR).

Under such a sentence the court fixes a minimum term the offender must serve in prison but any future release is determined by parole authorities taking into account public safety.

The Crown sought an OLR in McNeill's case because of the circumstances of his latest crime and his past record.

Advocate depute Jane Farquharson QC said there were concerns that he may have a propensity to commit sexual offences and has a particular interest in children.

The court heard that he was previously been convicted of an attempted rape and in 2001 was also convicted of an indecent assault on an 11-year-old boy.

McNeill was also convicted of indecent exposure in 1987 when he was caught masturbating in the direction of a children's play park in Edinburgh.

‘Complete disregard’ for Blake’s life

Following the guilty verdict, Detective Superintendent Martin MacLean, Police Scotland lead for child protection, said: “We acknowledge the conviction of Derek McNeill and our thoughts are with Blake’s family and friends.

“Blake was a vulnerable young boy who required regular medication for his diabetes. McNeill’s actions deprived Blake of his medication and showed a complete disregard for Blake's life which was so tragically cut short.

“The police investigation was complex and prolonged but we were committed to demonstrating Derek McNeill's culpability and hope that the verdict today will offer some comfort to Blake’s loved ones.”

The court heard that Blake was a vulnerable young person who was easily led and influenced and needed quite a high level of support.

A social worker involved in his care, Judith Armstrong, told the court: "He had been exposed to what happened on the street, but he was not street aware."

Blake was residing at a close support unit for children at the time but after visiting a leisure centre failed to return and was reported as a missing person.

A worker at the support unit said: "Blake was 13, but I saw him more as an eight year old. His concentration span was not good. He was a lovely, lovely lad. He functioned like an eight year old."

He was caught on camera late on February 11 at the shopping centre at Westside Plaza, in Wester Hailes, when McNeill approached the child appearing out of the shadows.

He was seen again on CCTV footage two days later leaving McNeill's flat with the sex offender when the teenager now seemed unsteady on his feet.

Dr Kathryn Noyes, from the children's hospital, told the court: "If a child with Type 1 diabetes with no access to insulin goes missing that becomes an absolute emergency."

Lord Weir deferred sentence in the case until September 8 at the High Court in Dundee and ordered he be detained at Saughton prison in Edinburgh.

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