TWO vodka-crazed Russians who battered a man to death with a clothes horse after he asked them to party more quietly were yesterday jailed for life with a minimum recommendation of 19 years.
Alexsandr Podgornoi and Vladimir Jakovlev stormed into downstairs neighbour Christopher McColm’s Hawick flat after he politely asked them to keep the noise down.
They pushed the 41-year-old “gentle giant” to the ground before tying up his arms and repeatedly punching, kicking and stamping on his head and body.
They then beat him to death using his household goods – including the clothes horse, a mirror, a portable heater and metal pole – as cudgels.
They left him to die in a pool of his own blood, and when asked by police about what had happened, they claimed they had not hurt him, saying they found him lying on the ground in a drunken stupor.
Temporary judge Michael O’Grady QC told Podgornoi and Jakovlev they had been convicted of an “appalling” crime.
He ordered them to serve at least 19 years behind bars before being eligible to be considered for parole. He said that when eventually freed, they would be immediately deported.
Mr McColm’s mother Ann clutched a framed photograph of her murdered son to her chest as she sat with a large group of family members to hear the sentence.
Podgornoi and Jakovlev had laughed and joked in the dock while waiting for Temporary Judge O’Grady to come into court.
The judge said: “You have been convicted of an appalling crime committed for reasons which I cannot begin to comprehend.
“You forced your way into the home of a man who you knew to be vulnerable, and proceeded to beat him to death in a savage, merciless and cowardly fashion.
“The dreadful ordeal that he suffered at your hands is all too clear given the evidence in this case.
“I have noted throughout these proceedings and also in preparation of reports that neither of you have shown a flicker of concern for the fate of Mr McColm, let alone any remorse.
“Mr McColm was a troubled young man, but if he was troubled, it is clear that he was also greatly loved and supported by his family and friends.
“This has been a terrible loss for them, made all the worse by the manner of it.
“I have no doubt that for them this trial has been a considerable ordeal, but it is one they have borne with great dignity.
“Sadly no sentence I can impose can change the past. It will be for others to assess the risk you represent and to decide when, if ever, you should be released, but I am required by law to fix the punishment part of the sentence of life imprisonment which I now impose.
“In addition to that I make an order for deportation on release.”
The High Court in Livingston heard that Jakovlev, 24, had gone to live with Podgornoi, 25, in the flat above Mr McColm’s the day before the murder.
Mr McColm, who had health problems, had told neighbours he was “scared” of living in the block and complained about noise coming from Podgornoi’s flat. Social workers were trying to arrange new accommodation for him.
A neighbour, Scott Carter, said he had heard Mr McColm asking the Russians to be quiet on the night he was murdered – April 2 2010 – and called police after hearing “horrible” noises.
Before officers could arrive, they ran off “looking very pleased with themselves”, jumped over a wall and disappeared into the night.
Mr Carter added: “One of them was drinking from a bottle of vodka and they were laughing and joking in their own language.”
Police officer Susanne Kay tried to speak to Mr McColm but only a gurgling noise came from his throat.
He was taken to hospital and died in the Western General, Edinburgh, the next day.
Both men were found guilty of forcing entry to McColm’s flat in Beattie Court, Hawick and then murdering him.
Jakovlev had previous convictions for violence, while Podgornoi was on bail facing having a knife in a public place.
Derrick Nelson, defending Podgornoi, said his client, though Russian, had been living in Estonia prior to coming to Scotland.
He said: “He looks forward to the day he can eventually return there.”
Neither man showed any emotion as they were led to the cells – Jakovlev wearing a track suit emblazoned with “RUSSIA” on the back.
Mr McColm’s mother Ann Turnbull, stepfather Steven Turnbull, sisters Carole Walker, and Catherine Turnbull, and brother Colin Turnbull sat through every day of the three-week trial.
More than two dozen members of Mr McColm’s family packed the public benches to hear the sentence.
After the sentence, Colin Turnbull, 27, Mr McColm’s brother, said: “Although the evidence against these two murderers was overwhelming, they denied committing his heinous crime and we were forced to sit through days of evidence that was gruesome and horrific.
“It will never leave us, hearing the horrific way in which Christopher died.
“Although we are extremely happy with the sentencing, we have also been given a life sentence. We have lost a much loved friend, brother, cousin, nephew and son.
“Chris was a gentle giant of a man, who would go out of his way to help others.
“Chris stopped drinking on the advice of his doctor and for the sake of his family in October 2008. We were all so very proud of him. Then for his life to be so cruelly taken by two evil, cold-hearted animals, has left us devastated.
“They have shown absolutely no remorse for what they have done, even attempting to portray Chris as the aggressor and they were merely defending themselves.
“At one stage they claimed to have found Chris lying on the floor of his flat and that they were trying to help him. This was a story concocted to explain Chris’s blood being on their persons.
“The family can take some comfort from the fact that Chris’s organs were donated to save the lives of others.
“We would like to thank everyone involved in the successful conviction of these two brutal, callous murderers.”
Lothian and Borders Detective Inspector Jim Robertson, who led the investigation, said: “The sentence that has been passed down today reflects the viciousness of the attack that Christopher was subjected to.
“He was a frail individual who had little chance of defending himself, and it is clear through their actions that both Podgornoi and Jakovlev are callous individuals, who thought nothing of attacking someone in such a vulnerable position.
“I am satisfied with today’s sentence, and I hope it will provide some closure to Christopher’s family, who have carried themselves with dignity throughout what has been a heartbreaking process for them.”