Rhys Bennett: Fife man who burned mother of two Jill Barclay alive is jailed for rape and murder
A Fife man who burned a mother-of-two alive has been jailed for 24 years for her rape and murder.
Rhys Bennett admitted sexually assaulting and killing Jill Barclay in Aberdeen on September 17, 2022 when he appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday, May 24. The court heard that, after raping the 47-year-old, he poured petrol on her and set her alight. He was jailed for life and told he must serve a minimum of 24 years before he is eligible to apply for parole.
Sentencing Bennett, Lord Arthurson said: "Your crimes against Ms Barclay were unimaginably wicked and indeed medieval in their barbarity." Ms Barclay leaves behind a partner and two children aged six and eight.
In a statement read by Detective Superintendent Andrew Patrick outside court after sentencing, Ms Barclay’s family paid tribute to her as a "deeply loved life partner, mother and daughter". They said: "She didn't deserve to die that day and especially in the unspeakable, brutal way it happened. This man has taken so much from us and changed our lives forever."
The 23-year-old from Ballingry appeared in the dock wearing a grey tracksuit. Prosecutor Lorraine Glancy KC told the court forensic evidence suggested Ms Barclay had been alive when she had been set on fire. Bennett did not know her before the attack, and met her while she was on a night out.
He and his colleagues had been drinking at the Spider's Web pub, in the Dyce area, where he met his victim. He followed her as she made her way home, before launching an attack Lord Arthurson said "plainly involved extreme, sustained and frankly feral violence". In Farburn Gatehouse, he assaulted Ms Barclay by repeatedly hitting and kicking her, stamping on her head and body, and hitting her head against a down pipe. He then raped her, before pouring petrol on her and setting her alight.
Ms Glancy told the court a man in the area that night heard "a high pitch scream by a female voice, followed by her shouting 'no, no, no'". Another woman told police she heard a female scream, but after listening from her back garden for a while she put it down to guests from a nearby hotel. Security camera footage captured parts of Ms Barclay's final journey. As she approached the area near Farburn Gatehouse, Bennett had overtaken her – but the court was told it was impossible to work out if there had been any interaction between them.
Ms Glancy said: "He slows at one point, turning backwards as if looking to see where Jill Barclay is. Jill Barclay then appears some 25 seconds later. She is walking extremely slowly. She then stops for several seconds before slowly making her way in the same direction of the accused. The footage is quite chilling. It shows Jill Barclay is wary of being too close to the accused. Having attempted on several occasions to distance herself from him, she is very clearly anxious, scared even, about the accused's behaviour."
They disappeared out of the camera's view at 12.51am, at around the time the screams were heard. Ms Glancy told the court that pathologists found in their post-mortem examination of Ms Barclay that she died as a result of blunt force head and facial injuries, external compression of the neck and effects of fire, and also of acute alcohol intoxication.
The court was told her death would have occurred even in the absence of alcohol intoxication, but it was "possible that acute alcohol intoxication has hindered her ability to self-rescue" and also may have "lowered her threshold for the fatal effects of external neck compression".
Sentencing Bennett, Lord Arthurson told him: "The available evidence tells the horrible truth that your victim was still living at the time that the fire was set. To be crystal clear: you burned her alive." Lord Arthurson said Ms Barclay had lived a "full and active life", and told Bennett: "By way of your criminal behaviour in this case, you took away her future and the hopes and dreams of her wider family.
"Their lives will never be the same. I have read most moving and articulate impact statements prepared by Ms Barclay's partner, her elder child and by her mother and aunt. Nothing that this court can do, or I can say, today will ever compensate this family for their loss, and I fully understand that no sentence of the court could perhaps ever be sufficient in their eyes."
Bennett also admitted attempting to defeat the ends of justice by burning the clothes he wore and washing others. He was given a punishment period of 24 years for the rape and murder, and four years for defeating the ends of justice, to run concurrently. He was also placed on the sex offenders register indefinitely.