We covered the sentence of Martin Souter, who was sent to prison for 22 years on 30th October 2013. It was reported as being 19 counts of indecent assault, and we expressed disbelieve at the total sentence – it was far, far higher than could reasonably be expected. We suggested that the most likely explanation was that the news reports had got the sentence wrong.
Well, we were right. Sort of. We now have the sentencing remarks (well done to judiciary.gov.uk for getting them out so quickly – more of that please!). It turns out that all of the news reports were misleading.
As well as being convicted of indecent assaults, Mr Souter was convicted of offences of buggery against two of the victims. This makes a huge difference. These offences were rape, and would be sentenced as such.
The sentencing remarks are worth reading in full. The Judge decided to set a ‘global’ sentence of 22 years made up of 22 years for the offences of buggery, with concurrent sentences for the other offences.
The concurrent sentences for all the other offences were 18, 20 and 36 months (with 6 months for the pornography offences). This is exactly the sort of sentences that you would expect for the offending.
Turning to the buggery, the Judge correctly identified the Sentencing Guidelines for rape as being the starting point.
It seems that what the Judge has done has take the top of the starting point (19 years) and added on some for the aggravating feature and some to reflect the other offences (para 37 Sentencing Remarks).
The Judge considered the question of dangerousness and whether he should pass a life sentence.
This, at least, makes a bit more sense. It is terrible reporting from all the news outlets that gave a completely misleading picture of what had happened.
There will be an appeal (probably against conviction – which will go nowhere, and sentence – which looks a bit more promising). Will it succeed?
Looking at it, the sentence is potentially too high on the general principle of totality. This is still a very, very high sentence. There is a concern that there is an element of ‘double counting’ in the sentence – the top of the top bracket is reserved for the ‘worst of the worst’ and factors in many of the aggravating features are ‘swallowed up’ in that (for example, a breach of trust is effectively inherent where the criminal offending is multiple rapes on the same victim).
In this case, it seems to me that a sentence more in the area of 17-19 years was appropriate, notwithstanding the seriousness of the offence. This would take the 15 year starting point with maybe a small increase, and shorter consecutive sentences for the other offences.
However, I would expect the Court of Appeal to uphold the sentence in the current climate. In any event, the sentence of 22 years makes sense when you know what the actual offences were.
On a separate note, personally I am concerned about incorporating public protection to make a sentence longer (para 48 Sentencing Remarks). It seems to me that either the case merits a sentence for public protection, or it does not. The sentence should not be increased from what is deserved for punishment to take account of the need for protection (especially as this is somewhat nebulous).
It also has the slightly contradictory result that if someone is dangerous and gets a life sentence, then their tariff should be lower than for a determinate sentence (as public protection is covered by the life sentence).
The Judge got the question of dangerousness right (in our view) . Mr Souter is now 60. He will be over 70 when he is released, 30 years after the last offence of buggery and 25 after the last assault.
One other thing to note is that the Judge appears to have made (para 57) a order disqualifying Mr Souter from from working with children (under s28 Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000). This was repealed on 17th June 2013 and the order is therefore unlawful (and ineffective). The automatic provisions of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 apply.