Justice system is steeped in sexist double standards
Gayle Newland was led away sobbing at Chester Crown Court the week before last after being sentenced to eight years on three counts of sexual assault.
Newland, 21 when the offences began, had worn a mask, bound her body to conceal its female form and conned a friend into believing she was a man. She had sex with her friend 10 times in two-and-a-half years using a prosthetic penis. The deception was only discovered when her friend ripped off Newland's mask after sensing that the prosthetic device was not genuine.
Judge Roger Dutton told her that her offences had amounted to "a callous breach of trust".Few will question the judge's characterisation of Newland's behaviour. She had misled and misused her friend for purposes of sexual gratification. Whether the misbehaviour was so grave as to make eight years a reasonable sentence is a different question.
The question is sharpened by looking at sentences imposed by the same judge on others convicted of deceitfully luring their victims into sex.
Michel Farrell had sex with four girls whom he had contacted via Facebook and who he knew were only 13 at the time. One of the girls became pregnant, had a miscarriage and tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrists. At the trial in 2010 Judge Dutton told him: "It is disgusting. You took advantage of them and their vulnerability. You present a significant risk to young girls."
That was one of the differences between the two cases: there was no evidence that Newland represented a danger to other women, or to anyone. The other significant difference was that Farrell was sentenced not to eight years, but to four years and eight months.
It couldn't be - could it - that the court believed there was something particularly reprehensible and even unnatural about a woman behaving in sex in a way more commonly associated with men?
Just last month Dutton sentenced Keith Cavendish-Coulson, a former teacher, to six years and nine months in prison for sexual abuse of 24 boys.
If the fact that she is a woman played no part in sentencing Newland, what can the alternative explanation be for the disparity between the punishments?
If using deception to entice somebody to have sex is a crime deserving years in prison, what are we to make of the fact that none of Mark Kennedy, Bob Lambert, John Dines, Mark Jenner or Jim Boyling has been charged, or even disciplined?
The five were undercover Metropolitan Police officers tasked with keeping tabs on a group of environmental and animals rights activists. All five, using aliases, developed sexual relationships with women members of the group.
Last week Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt (below) announced that the Met accepted the women's claims and had made out-of-court settlements with six of the seven who have come forward.
Kennedy had a six-year relationship with a woman known as Lisa Jones, and shorter relationships with at least two others. Lambert had four relationships with women members of the group.
Dines had a relationship which lasted two years. Jenner lived with one of the women for four years. Boyling had a five-year relationship with a woman with whom he had two children.
Hewitt apologised "unreservedly" to the women and claimed that the officers' behaviour had not been sanctioned by the Met. Home Secretary Theresa May announced a "judge-led inquiry".
The fact that the cases were settled out of court meant that none of the officers was called to give evidence or face cross-examination. The Met disclosed no documents to the women for reasons of - we know this one - national security.
Hewitt insisted that the Met had not realised what its officers were up to. If this is so, they must have systematically been misleading those to whom they were reporting back. So, how come there haven't been disciplinary charges at least?
One of the women has been paid compensation of £400,000 - suggesting that the final bill to the taxpayer will be upwards of £2m. But nobody is expected by the Met or the Home Office to suffer any consequence as a result. Nobody will be led away in floods of tears to face years in prison.
The court had been told that Newland had experienced gender confusion from an early age and had first been taken for psychiatric examination at 15.
Her family and friends who packed into the court may well feel that there's little justice for anyone with no connection to the centres of power - and none at all if you're a woman.