Court halts abuse case against girl
The prosecution of a young girl for the alleged online sexual abuse of her two little sisters has been blocked by the High Court.
Judges ruled there was no evidence to show the Crown Prosecutor had properly considered "the best interests" of all three girls and that a court case would get in the way of therapy.
The accused sister, now aged 14, said she had been "groomed" over the internet by an adult male.
Childcare professionals had raised concerns over "the message" her prosecution would have sent out to the wider community and young people who might be experiencing abuse and coercion online.
Referred to as "E" for legal reasons, the girl said the man had persuaded her on various occasions when she was 12 years old to expose herself and behave in a sexual way. He had then, partly with the use of threats, persuaded her to do things to her sisters, then aged two and three.
The alleged abuse was discovered in a 25-minute video recording on the internet in January 2010 by police officers from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop). Childcare workers described the discovery of the video as "devastating" for the family.
E subsequently told the police some of the acts recorded were simulated. However, a Crown Prosecutor specialising in child abuse cases advised there was "a realistic prospect" of convicting E of two offences of sexual assault and of being involved in the making and distribution of the indecent video material between January and November 2009.
The prosecutor said it would be "in the public interest" to charge E, and she appeared at a youth court in September last year. But Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice McCombe, who heard the case at Leeds Combined Court, quashed the decision to prosecute.
Lord Justice Munby ruled that the prosecutor failed to follow the relevant guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The judge said both guidance and code stressed that, in child prosecution cases, prosecutors must consider what was "in the best interests and welfare" of both the victims and defendants, if they were children.
A strategy group involving representatives of the local authority, NSPCC, police and other bodies specifically dealing with child protection had reported in June last year that neither E nor her sisters could be "therapeutically supported" while a prosecution was pursued.