Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Teacher Andrew Pearson jailed for rape of pupil

Andrew Pearson

Photo courtesy of BBC News

Piano teacher Andrew Pearson was sentenced yesterday, 20th August 2013, to an extended sentence of 22 years, combining eighteen years imprisonment and a 4 year extended licence, for the rape and abuse of a pupil.

Pearson, 37, from Bradford, was found guilty of eight offences of rape and six of ‘sexual abuse’ by a jury sitting at Bradford Crown Court. News reports state he was convicted of ‘sexual abuse’ – sexual abuse is not an offence and it is unclear exactly which offences were charged for this element of the offending. It may well be one of the ‘abuse of a position of trust’ offences under Sexual Offences Act 2003 s 16-24.

The facts of the case are sparse, but is had been reported that Pearson started grooming his female victim when she was just eight years old and the abuse continued for four years.

Further reports suggest that the some 74,000 pornographic images and 5,000 videos were found on Pearson’s computers.  Pearson apparently had a fetish for soiled ladies underwear, as discovered by his wife when she found a pair of small pink knickers in his drawer, and pornography on a memory stick.

The Judge is reported to have said: “It was protracted, detailed, repeated abuse on a little girl who could not and did not understand and was ashamed, terrified, afraid to complain, afraid of you.”

Pearson is said to have forced the girl to take her clothes off and watch pornography with him.

Sentencing guidelines for the offences can be found here.  The maximum sentence is one of life imprisonment.  Pearson received an extended sentenceof 22 years, comprising of 18 years custody and 4 years on licence.

This means that the Judge decided that he was ‘dangerous’ within the meaning of the CJA 2003. The test is whether the defendant poses a significant risk of serious harm. On any view these were offences of the utmost seriousness and a finding of dangerousness comes as little surprise.

The aggravating features of the offences are the age of the victim, the length of time over which the offences were committed, as well as the fact that Pearson was in a position of trust.  Given the length of the sentence there may be an appeal; it may be that the assessment of dangerousness is challenged. Without knowing more information about the offences and the offender, it is impossible to assess. However, on the basic facts that have been reported, it seems any appeal may well be unsuccessful.

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Stuart Hall – Attorney General’s Reference against ‘lenient’ 15 month sentence

Stuart Hall was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on 17th June 2013 for a series of sexual offences committed between 1967 and 1985 (or 1986, the Prosecution were unable to say which).

We covered the background to this offending here and the issues thrown up by historic sexual offences here.

Attorney-General’s References

The Attorney-General, following (reportedly) around 150 complaints (including from the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MP) has referred the case to the Court of Appeal as he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient.

An Att-Gen’s reference is essentially a prosecution appeal against sentence. An overview can be found here. The Court of Appeal, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, Court 5, will be led by the outgoing (as in he is retiring, not that he is friendly and confident) Lord Chief Justice, Lady Just Rafferty (a former Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association) and Mrs Justice Macur (who has been promoted to the Court of Appeal, as a Lady Justice, but is yet to take up that appointment).

They will consider whether the 15 month sentence handed down by HHJ Russell QC at Preston was outside the range of sentences the judge could have considered reasonably appropriate when considering all of the relevant factors. Attorney-General’s references are designed to correct gross errors as opposed to replacing a sentence which is a little lenient, or different in nature to the one the Court of Appeal have in mind.

Stuart Hall

The starting point is the sentencing remarks, which are here. They are worth reading in full (especially if you are of the view that the sentence was too short).

There were 14 separate offences (relating to 13 separate victims). The ages of the victims were between 9 and 17 years old. The offences vary in seriousness, with the Judge noting that some of them, had they stood in isolation, “is by no means the worst example of sexual abuse of children to come before the Court“

The maximum sentence for indecent assault was originally 2 years, later to 5 (for children under the age of 13) and then to 10 years from 16th September 1985 (s3 Sexual Offences Act 1985).

The most serious offences were Counts 6, 15 and 16. Briefly, Count 6 involved a 13 year old girl who had been drinking. Mr Hall accepted touching her breasts and inserting a finger in her vagina. Counts 15 and 16 involved far less serious offending, but also attracted the highest sentence as the girls were so young (10 and 9 respectively).

It should be noted that the offence in Count 6 would today be charged as Assault by Penetration with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Given the facts of the offence, the starting point today would be in the region of 10 years (page 29).

An explanation of the sentence – and why the court are constrained by the maximum sentences of the 1960s can be seen here and here.

The outcome

The Court of Appeal increased the sentence, saying that the breach of trust seriously aggravated the offences (as did his pronouncement of denials of any wrongdoing on the steps of the Court, which the Court seemed to think was an attempt to influence a potential jury)

As a result, the sentence as a whole was not just merciful or lenient, but was unduly so. The Court doubled the sentence to 30 months. This is a significant increase (equating to a starting point of a sentence of 3½ years after trial, allowing for an element of double jeopardy.

Comment

To my mind, the sentence wasn’t unduly lenient when balancing all of the factors, such as his pleas, his age, the maximum sentences at the time and the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in the guideline case of R v H.

However, that said, there has been an awful lot of media pressure and public anger about the sentence and so I wasn’t surprised that the sentence is increased slightly. It was certainly not a severe sentence and so it is probably within the scope of the court to increase the sentence if they feel the judge did not properly assess the offences correctly. An increase to 30 months is a bigger increase than was expected.

Here is a link to a press release by the firm representing some of Stuart Hall’s victims detailing the reaction of one of the victims to the increase in sentence.

Man who set up ‘masturbation station’ near a primary school pleads guilty to child pornography offences

chained computer

 Stephen Conroy, 53, has pleaded guilty to a number of sexual offences including making and possessing indecent images of children and possessing extreme pornography.

The offences

Possessing extreme pornography is an offence under Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 s 63. The maximum sentence is 3 years or 2 years where the image in question is not an image which portrays a) an act which threatens a person’s life, or b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals.

 There are several indecent image offences including:

1)     Criminal Justice Act 1988 s 160 (possession of indecent photographs) – max sentence 5 years

2)     Protection of Children Act 1978 s 1 (taking, distributing, publishing etc. indecent photographs) – max sentence 10 years

3)     Coroners and Justice Act 2009 s 62 (possession of prohibited images of children) – max sentence 3 years

It is not clear how many counts, or indeed which section he has pleaded to.

The (scarce) facts

He was found in possession of thousands of printed images, DVDs and videos of child pornography after police searched his home address in February 2013. There was reportedly pornography ‘plastered’ all over the ceilings and walls of three bedrooms. It is understood that some of the images are considered to be level 5 images of child pornography – the highest on the scale.

Additionally, police reportedly found children’s underwear and a school girl’s outfit.

The prosecution, presumably opening the case the judge (telling the judge what the case is about) stated that Mr Conroy had filmed children arriving at and leaving the primary school with which his house is in close proximity.

The prosecutor added: “There was a home-made masturbation device by a window which had a view of the street. In regards to the masturbation station, he admitted that is what he used it for,”.

 “Conroy told officers he thought the children in the images were innocent and beautiful and works of art but probably did not understand what was going on.

“He said he liked children and thought of himself as childlike.”

Conroy told officers he had started looking at child abuse images in 2006 and later searched for “school uniform porn”.

Sentence

Sentencing was adjourned, reportedly due to the unavailability of certain evidence. This is presumably so the correct basis on which to sentence Mr Conroy can be determined.

We will return to the sentencing when it is reported.

Further details can be found here.

Historic sexual abuse allegations

 

What are we talking about?

These are cases in which there are allegations of sexual abuse which occurred decades ago. Frequently these can include repeated abuse over a significant period of time, with numerous victims.

Often, the victims are young, vulnerable individuals.

There is usually a degree of breach of trust in such cases, and

It is common for the abuse to be centred around an institution such as a school or church, or within a family.

Should they be prosecuted? It is a very long time ago.

It can be difficult to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial if the allegations concern conduct 30 or 40 years ago. The situation, as one would imagine, is complicated.

Nick Ferrari, presenter on LBC radio, said this week, ‘I can’t remember what I was doing last week. How is a defendant supposed to remember an incident 30 or 40 years ago?’. Whilst many sympathise with this view, the question must be asked whether the passage of time negates the need to detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime.

In April 2013, the Chief of the Met Police stated that they would continue to look for the other men involved in Stephen Lawrence’s murder, 20 years after the event. No one would suggest that that course of action is wrong, so why should police and the CPS not investigate and prosecute allegations of serious sexual abuse?

The courts will take every step to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. The judge will ensure the jury are properly directed on the law and the evidence and will remind them of the difficulties of historic cases – particularly when it comes to ‘his word against hers’ (as so often is the case).

What about the delay in reporting? Does this suggest they are lying?

CPS Guidance on the topic states:

“It is now widely accepted that delay in reporting is not indicative of a false allegation and prosecutors should be proactive in encouraging the police to investigate thoroughly to uncover any available supporting evidence. Not surprisingly victims may have problems recalling the precise details of each and every incident, especially in relation to dates.”

There can be many reasons why a complainant may not report such abuse until years – even decades – after the event. These can include fear of not being believed (certainly in the case of a prominent public figure) and an unwillingness to relive the incident.  In the Stuart Hall case this week, we have seen reported that numerous complainants – unconnected to one another – came forward after hearing of the initial allegations against him.

A delay in reporting abuse of course does not mean a complainant is lying, but there are added complications when the incident is alleged to have happened so long ago.

What about defendant anonymity? If they are acquitted, their reputations are ruined.

This a tricky question.

On the one hand, there are strong arguments to say that because of the reputational damage caused by such serious allegations – irrespective of whether they are proven or not – there should be anonymity for those accused of such crimes.

Some say, this should merely extend to when a defendant is charged, as at that point, the CPS have taken the decision that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute etc.

Others say this should extend to conviction, as the reputational damage is the same even if a defendant is not named until they are charged.

On the other hand, one cannot deny the importance of encouraging victims of historical abuse to come forward. The Stuart Hall case provides a persuasive example. Had his name not been published, then it may be that the allegations would have resulted in only 3 charges rather than 14 being brought. Indeed, one complainant said she only came forward after hearing about Stuart Hall’s arrest on the radio.

So, what is the solution?

Well, better reporting of acquittals and defence cases in trials such as this would go some way to reducing the reputational damage caused by unproven allegations. With a bit more information, and a little bit of education, the wider public may understand that arrested and charged means only that an allegation has been made and the CPS consider that a) there is a realistic prospect of conviction and b) it is in the public interest to prosecute.

However, there remains the ‘no smoke without fire’ mentality which is damaging.

Mark George QC wrote on defendant anonymity here, earlier this year.

Here is an article on ‘The right to know’ in today’s Telegraph.

Current practice in naming suspects

The following is a quote from a BBC article (3 May 2013).

“When someone is arrested for an offence – and the incident appears to be newsworthy – journalists will try to establish what has happened. That ultimately means trying to establish who has been arrested, because journalists want their reporting to be accurate.

But the police’s position in relation to names is shifting in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry report.

Lord Justice Leveson said that arrested suspects should not be named “save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances”.

Current practice is that a police force issues a statement along the lines of a “A 34-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of such-and-such a crime”.

What happens next varies from force to force. Some will informally confirm the name of the person arrested if journalists have worked it out for themselves. Some won’t.

Police chiefs want to introduce an official policy under which forces would “neither confirm nor deny” (NCND) the name of anyone arrested.”

Sentencing

Here are some basic principles from the guideline case on sentencing historic sexual offences, R v H 2012 2 Cr App R (S) 21:

1) The offence of which the defendant is convicted and the sentencing parameters (in particular, the maximum available sentence) applicable to that offence are governed not by the law at the date of sentence, but by the law in force at the time when the criminal conduct occurred.

 2) Article 7(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits the imposition of a heavier penalty than one “applicable” at the time when the offence was committed.

 3) Although sentence must be limited to the maximum sentence at the date when the offence was committed, it is wholly unrealistic to attempt an assessment of sentence by seeking to identify in (2013) what the sentence for the individual offence was likely to have been if the offence had come to light at or shortly after the date when it was committed.

 4) Similarly, if maximum sentences have been reduced, as in some instances, for example theft, they have, the more severe attitude to the offence in earlier years, even if it could be established, should not apply.

 5) As always, the particular circumstances in which the offence was committed and its seriousness must be the main focus. Due allowance for the passage of time may be appropriate. The date may have a considerable bearing on the offender’s culpability.

Cross-examination and why the defence case must be put

Last week came the tragic news that Frances Andrade, the complainant in a recent sexual abuse case, had committed suicide just days after giving evidence against her attacker.

The facts of the case have been well-documented in the press, but in summary, Mrs Andrade made allegations that Michael Brewer sexually abused her whilst she was living with him and his wife during the 1970s.  Both Mr Brewer and his wife Hilary were found guilty after trial of sexually abusing Mrs Andrade when she was 14 and 15 years old.  Mr Brewer was, however, acquitted of raping Mrs Andrade when she was 18, and his wife acquitted of aiding and abetting that rape.

The defence case is, at present, unclear, however we know that both defendants denied the charges.  The press have reported that it was put to Mrs Andrade that she was a liar and a fantasist.  What is certain, is that in order for this to be put, it would have had to come from the defendant himself.  This is what we term “instructions”.  It would not and could not have been concocted by defence counsel in an effort to hurt or humiliate Mrs Andrade.

The role of the defence advocate is to put their client’s case to the complainant.  We don’t concoct a defence or tell our client what to say in order to “get them off”.  But we must fearlessly defend those accused, regardless of our own thoughts and feelings.  We are not there to judge, we are there to enable the evidence to be tested.  It is the role of the jury to determine guilt, not ours.  In testing that evidence it may be necessary to put certain, rather unattractive, suggestions to the complainant, and if those are our instructions we have a duty to put them.

I’ve represented men accused of sexual and violent offences against women.  Some have been found guilty of those offences, and some have been acquitted.  If the evidence had not been tested it is likely those innocent individuals would have been convicted.  It’s never a pleasant experience to have to put certain things to a witness, especially one who is clearly vulnerable, but it’s my job.  I have been trained to do it and that training teaches us to cross-examine in a sensitive but robust manner.  I have no doubt that Kate Blackwell QC, counsel for Mr Brewer, did exactly what was necessary in order to put her client’s case.  Indeed the trial Judge Martin Rutland praised her for her conduct during the case, stating “You did your job, in that you put what had to be put to the witness”.

As a complainant in a sexual abuse case, Mrs Andrade should have been offered support from the moment she went to the police.  We cannot comment on the support offered in this particular case, but Greater Manchester Police have said that it is their “policy and practice to encourage victims to seek whatever support they need”.  The courts are also aware of the necessity to treat complainants of sexual offences with care and are equipped to assist them when they come to give their evidence.  Complainants of these types of offences do not need to face the defendant in open court, but can give evidence from behind a screen, or via video-link.  These are deemed “special measures” and are available to a range of witnesses, not only complainants in sexual cases.  It is reported that Mrs Andrade refused these measures, opting instead to give evidence in the usual way, by facing the defendant in open court.

Putting aside the issue of special measures, the fact remains that each and every complainant must be cross-examined effectively.  This is the only way the case against the defendant can be proved as it is only by testing the evidence that we can equip the jury with the necessary tools to come to a safe verdict.  Chairman of the Bar Maura McGowan QC has commented on the matter, stating “There is sometimes a very difficult balance to strike between protecting vulnerable witnesses and properly testing evidence so that juries are able to make informed decisions.  We must do everything we can to ensure we get that balance right.”

It has been reported that the CPS prosecutor only met with Mrs Andrade on the day of trial.  In my experience this is not uncommon.  However, this does not mean that she was not supported by the criminal justice system.  Again, we cannot comment on this specific case, but usually a complainant will be well informed of the assistance they can receive from Victim Support, and have details of the individuals working on their case.  The trial process will be discussed and they will be informed of the special measures available to them.  At court they will be taken into a witness waiting room, away from the press and general public, where they are able to go over their statement in relative comfort.

Mrs Andrade’s death is tragic.  The circumstances surrounding it are tragic.  But is the justice system to blame?