A 15-year-old boy pleaded guilty to two counts of rape. When aged 14, X (he cannot be named because of his age) approach V (aged 13) whilst V was waiting at a bus stop on his way home from school.
X asked V where he lived, where he went to school, whether he was in a gang and whether he had a phone. When V replied that he did not have a phone, X told him he must go to a block of flats in order that he could be searched.
X then grabbed V, ordered him to remove his boxer shorts and raped him, telling him to “do it like a girl”. V was begging for X to stop and X replied “Good, that’s what you get for not having a good phone [to steal]. I’m going to scar you for life.” After the rape, X then slapped V in the face and told him not to look at him.
X had a previous conviction for possession of cannabis and had been reprimanded for carrying a knife.
X was sentenced to 4 years’ detention under section 91. This is for grave crimes committed by those under 18. See here for our explanation of youth custodial sentences.
Judge Roger Chapple, sentencing, told the defendant that his offences had been “dreadful” and the effects on his victim “profound”.
“You were apparently punishing him (the victim) for not having a mobile phone you could steal from him,” the judge said.
“A quite sad and disquieting theme that has run through this case is the power, control and domination you sought to exercise over your victim and your apparent wish to degrade him.
“When he told you how much you had hurt him you expressed satisfaction and threatened to scar him for life.”
This throws up a couple of important – difficult – issues.
The first issue is punishment. What is the appropriate sentence? For an adult, the sentence is likely to have been more than double the four years given to X.
On one side, there is the need to punish X, and a lengthy custodial sentence is necessary to a) deal with the issues X obviously has and b) mark the seriousness of the offence, ensuring that an appropriate punishment is imposed. There is also the need to protect the public where appropriate, however here, X was not assessed as dangerous (within the meaning of CJA 2003) warranting an extended or life sentence.
On the other, there is the desire not to unnecessarily incarcerate children and young offenders. X is clearly a child with issues which need addressing. A sentence maeasured in years is obviously going to have a significant effect on X’s life and restrict what he can do once he is released. This may be the beginning of a life of crime if, for example, he leaves custody with no education, a drugs habit, no skills, no job prospects.
Whilst there is a duty to impose the shortest possible sentence commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, there is some discretion within that and courts can – and do – take very lenient approaches to some offenders.
So, what is the correct sentence? For my money, 4 years seems right.
The second issue is anonymity. As a general rule, those under 18 are anonymised.
The victim, V, will remain anonymous for the rest of his life as he is a victim of a sexual offence (see here for more about sex complainant anonymity).
As for X, his identity is currently subject to reporting restrictions. That means that publication of his name, image or any information which might lead to the public ascertaining his identity is prohibited. This would most likely include his school and where he lives.
The Judge is reportedly considering a request to lift the anonymity order in relation to X. Should he do so? We understand his decision will be given on 17 July.
There was a lot of criticism recently about the lifting of anonymity orders in relation to child offenders – this was sparked by the news that John Venables was to be released from prison . Many thought that had the judge decided to refuse the request to publish details of Thompson and Venables’ identities and their pictures, then some of the anger surrounding the may have subsided. As it currently is, their names can keep cropping up in the press, as the order made by the judge permitted their identities to be known, but no images etc. of their appearance to be published after 2001.
This is tricky issue. There is force in the argument that says offenders should be named and shamed, and that such a process features as a part of the denunciatory value of sentencing. However, there is much force, in my view, in the argument that supports retaining that anonymity as it would allow X to serve his sentence and attempt to rebuild his life. He is a young boy who clearly has issues which need addressing. The fact he has a criminal conviction, for a sex offence, will serve as an ongoing reminder – as will signing on to the sex offender’s register. By virtue of the sentence he received, the conviction will remain on his record forever. Is his custodial sentence, criminal record and requirement to sign on to the sex offender’s register punishment enough?
Should the courts give him a helping hand to turn his life around and protect his identity? Or should the court grant the application to publish his identity and leave him with an albatross around his neck for the rest of his life?