Indecent images cases in the news – June 2017
Trainee teacher, Mr W, was jailed for 3 years at Newport Crown Court and received an indefinite sexual harm prevention order. Mr W had 181 indecent images of children, 219 films of and 59 extreme images. Ordinarily a first offence of this sort may result in a community order and suspended sentence the very telling feature of this case was that Mr W distributed images. It seems that the defendant pleaded not guilty and underwent a full trial.
The above case can be contrasted with that of the case of Mr B who pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to three charges of possession of 385 indecent images of children. The difference in Mr B’s case and the case referred to above is that Mr B was not convicted of distribution and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. Mr B’s case was aggravated by the fact that he had a conviction 12 months before when he had exposed himself whilst shouting at women passing his home. Mr B received a sentence of 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years and was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work. It is not known whether a SHPO was imposed.
Mr C’s case was reported on the 26th May 2017 when at Mold Crown Court he admitted to making 11 indecent images; two of which were category A. Whilst this is a small amount of images, albeit with two from the most serious category, the defendant had previously been given a suspended sentence in 2012 at Liverpool Crown Court for making such images. Although the sentencing guidelines indicate a starting point of one year’s custody and, with credit, a final sentence of eight months (often suspended), the fact he had a previous offence aggravated the current offence such that there was little option but to impose an immediate custodial sentence of 8 months. Considering the starting point is 12 months, one would imagine it would be aggravated to a higher level before credit. He should have expected an immediate custodial sentence of perhaps 12 months.
The final case is that of Mr P who was jailed for 30 months for both making and distributing indecent images of children. He was sentenced at Lewis Crown Court having pleaded guilty to 6 offences relating to indecent images of children. In this case there were 241 images of category A, 109 of category B and 602 of category C. He was sentenced to 30 months immediate imprisonment and was also made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order which will last indefinitely. The sentencing guidelines indicate a sentence of three years custody and it is difficult to establish why he received 30 months. One would anticipate that if he pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity the starting point would have been one of 24 months. It may be that he pleaded guilty but not at the earliest opportunity thereby receiving a little less credit, or it may be that the Learned Judge considered the starting point was a little low due to the volume or seriousness of the images.
It is clear that the difference in seriousness between those who possess and those who distribute may be the difference between a sentence of immediate imprisonment and a community order with or without a suspended sentence. It is also clear that those who plead guilty at the earliest opportunity not only receive credit for their early guilty plea but such credit may impact on whether the sentence of imprisonment is to be immediate or suspended.
In my experience, when dealing with a sentencing hearing in an indecent images case, I have not come across a single defendant who simply didn’t care about what they had done. Many are wracked with remorse, many are confused about their behaviour. They knew it was wrong but they kept going back and viewing, downloading, or distributing the images again and again. The one thing that seemed to give them pause was their arrest. None of my clients have ever expressed relief at being arrested but many have expressed relief that they have been able to break the cycle. They will be anxious and fearful, often wondering, what will I get? Many seek counselling or the services of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and Stop it Now. As a rule they do tell their families and their families continue to support them. They all show a determination to avoid such behaviour in future.
What then for someone who is convicted for a second time? As a specialist sex offender solicitor, I know that particular care is required in the preparation of mitigation. It would be naïve to simply turn to the sentencing judge and state that the client is addressing their offending behaviour. That some lawyers do so is perhaps why as a rule one expects to see a custodial sentence for a second offence. The judiciary knows that people convicted of these offences are often horrified at the implications (loss of home, career, family, publicity etc.). Those who have not learned this lesson and reoffend can in all but truly exceptional circumstances expect an immediate custodial sentence. For those who are continuing a process of rehabilitation, or who did not for some good reason have a structured opportunity to meaningfully address their offending behaviour in the first instance, there may be more to be said.
Nicholas Wragg is a specialist criminal lawyer and advocate. To contact Nicholas please call 01225 485700 or email email@example.com