Indecent Images Case Review
Nicholas Wragg, Solicitor and Higher Rights Advocate, reviews recent sexual offence cases and their outcomes. To contact our specialist team of solicitors please call 01225 485700 or email email@example.com
Mr N from Northampton in January was convicted for the third time in respect of indecent images. In 2010 he received a suspended sentence but in 2017 received a custodial sentence. Police had attended his property to carry out checks subject to his Sexual Harm Prevention Order and discovered images on his mobile phone. N pleaded guilty to offences of possession and distribution of indecent images. He was sentenced to 2 years and 3 months.
Commentary: The starting point for distribution of Category A images is 36 months. Clearly the previous convictions would aggravate matters and it was likely he was in breach of his sexual harm prevention order. It seems likely that the distribution would have been in relation to B or C category images. Whilst the courts will be quick to offer solutions of rehabilitation where there is some confidence a second offence is likely to result in an immediate custodial sentence.
Mr W of Gosport was sentenced at Portsmouth Crown Court in February for possession and distribution of indecent images of children. He had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had been full and frank with the police. He admitted accessing this material since he was a child. He was found to be in possession of around 1500 images of all categories. The learned judge imposed a sentence including a 3-year community order with 100 hours unpaid work and 20 days rehabilitation activity requirements.
Commentary: Mr W is extremely fortunate. Some of the images were plainly distressing and would have aggravated his sentence. Although the distribution might be considered inadvertent (he didn’t realise people had access to his collection) he had nevertheless pleaded guilty to this offence. It is clear he had gone to some effort to address his offending behaviour. In such cases the courts have to weigh up his prospects of rehabilitation. Clearly this is desirable as a prison sentence would have resulted in his release in around 18 months. The learned judge could have imposed a suspended sentence with a suspended sentence order equal to the community order but this would have been for a maximum of two years. By imposing a straight community order the judge was able to increase the level of intervention for three years.
Mr AW was sentence in Derby Crown Court in January in respect of 20,000 indecent images of children. He had been discovered following intelligence to the police that he had been accessing peer to peer groups who were distributing such images. There were a small proportion of category A and B images and the vast majority comprised Category C. The offending was over an extended period from 2012 to 2018. The defendant was given a 16-month suspended sentence for two years and ordered to complete 100 hours unpaid work and a Rehabilitation activity requirement. He had no previous convictions and pleaded guilty at the earlies opportunity.
Commentary: the sentencing guideline for these offences states “In most cases the intrinsic character of the most serious of the offending images will initially determine the appropriate category. If, however, the most serious images are unrepresentative of the offender’s conduct a lower category may be appropriate. A lower category will not, however, be appropriate if the offender has produced or taken (for example photographed) images of a higher category.” It may well have been arguable that sentence should have been substantially reduced because of the predominance of category C images. There were a significant number of images and a long period of offending but it is hard to square this sentence with the sentence of W above who was distributing such images. A 16-month sentence on an early guilty plea means a starting point of 24 months before credit for an early guilty plea. In my view a community order would have been an appropriate sentence.
Mr B of Flintshire was sentenced at Chester Crown Court in January. He was found to be in possession of 80,000 indecent images of children. He had been downloading such images from 2007 to 2018. The number of category A images was less than 300. A significant number in itself but a small proportion of the whole. He received an immediate custodial sentence of 16 months.
Commentary: The starting point for such offences is 12 months. Clearly the long period of possession and the very high number justify a departure from the starting point. The learned judge would have employed a starting point of 24 months then deducted credit for his guilty plea giving a final sentence of 16 months. In reality Mr B will spend 8 months in prison before being released on licence. This prison sentence is far too short for any meaningful intervention. One has to wonder whether a 36-month community order would have been more appropriate. Clearly this is deeply entrenched behaviour going on for some years.