TRAGEDY: Helensburgh Pier killer to be held in psychiatric hospital

Charmaine O’Donnell drowned after she was pushed into the water.

By Lucy Ashton

A man who pushed a woman to her death from a pier will be detained at a high-security psychiatric hospital for an unlimited time.

Jacob Foster attacked Charmaine O’Donnell, who was a stranger to him, at Helensburgh Pier on 23 April in 2021 and Ms O’Donnell, 25, sustained serious neck injuries and drowned.

Foster, from Helensburgh, was convicted of lesser charge of culpable homicide after first being charged with murder.

The 30-year-old, who has a learning disability, was convicted in November and ordered to be assessed at the State Hospital at Carstairs.

Speaking at the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Fairley told Foster: “This is an utterly tragic case. That hardly needs to be said.  Charmaine O’Donnell was a young woman with her whole life in front of her.”

The judge said Ms O’Donnell was “much loved and greatly missed” and there was no sentence that he could pass that would ever mitigate the grief and loss felt by her family.

Lord Fairley said reports from medical experts had satisfied him that the criteria were met for making both a compulsion order and a restriction order on Foster.

Jacob Foster
Jacob Foster denied murder and lodged a special defence of “abnormality of mind”.

He said he was satisfied that it was appropriate that Foster continue to receive care and treatment in a high security setting.

A restriction order is an order without any defined limit of time. Scottish Ministers would need to approve a move to a different hospital or any periods spent out of hospital.

Psychiatrist Dr Jana De Villiers confirmed that Foster has a learning disability and that he would pose a risk to himself and others if he did not continue with his treatment.

The court heard that one of the features in Foster’s case was impulsivity in his behaviour.

Dr De Villiers said it was the clinical team’s view that he required treatment in a high security setting, at least initially.

Foster’s earlier trial heard that Ms O’Donnell had gone to Helensburgh with a friend, Caitlin McTaggart, to enjoy a spell of good weather.

They began chatting to three men who were fishing and Ms McTaggart said it appeared Foster was trying to become involved in the conversation.  She said that neither she nor her friend knew him.

The court heard that there was a “commotion” when Ms O’Donnell was pushed over railings at the pier and someone shouted to Ms McTaggart: “That’s your pal.”

Advocate depute Alex Prentice KC asked the friend if she said anything to Foster. 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’.”

One of the fishermen at the pier, Stephen Cairns, said Ms O’Donnell was standing at the railings at the edge of the pier, pictured right.

He said: “I turned around and saw the accused pushing the girl over the railing. He pushed her with both hands.”

PC Gary Davidson told the court that Foster was “quite agitated and talking a lot” when he arrived at the pier.  He said Foster told him: “I just pushed her, it was just a bit of fun.”

Foster was convicted of killing the charity shop employee after pushing her from the pier and causing her to strike its structure or another rough surface and ingest water.

Defence counsel Sean Templeton told the court: “This is the most tragic case.”

Helensburgh Pier when the PS Waverley called there and above right as it is today after extensive renovation work was carried out.

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