Paedophile given two-year sentence
A paedophile who escaped a prison sentence after his schoolgirl victim was labelled "predatory" has been ordered to serve two years behind bars by leading judges who stressed that vulnerable children who initiate sexual activity with adults need "more protection, not less" from the courts.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and two other judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled that the non-custodial term originally handed out in the case of Neil Wilson, 40, was "plainly and without doubt unduly lenient".
After hearing argument on behalf of attorney general Dominic Grieve they quashed the sentence of 12 months, suspended for two years, which was imposed in Wilson's case in August after he admitted engaging in sexual activity with the child, as well as offences of making indecent images of a child and offences of possession of an extreme pornographic image.
Complaints were made shortly after the case was heard at London's Snaresbrook Crown Court when it emerged that the prosecuting barrister had described the 13-year-old girl as "predatory" and "sexually experienced".
Imposing the two-year immediate prison term, Lord Thomas said: "To reduce punishment on the basis that a person who needed protection was encouraging the commission of an offence is simply wrong."
Emphasising that the law was there to protect children under 16 from sex abuse, Lord Thomas said: " We agree with the submission of the attorney general that an under-age person who is encouraging sexual relations needs more protection, not less."
He declared: "The fact that the offender took advantage of what he asserted the victim did aggravated the offence. Therefore the attorney general is right to say that her vulnerability was an aggravating, rather than a mitigating feature."
Wilson, formerly of Romford, Essex, and now living in York, was not present for the ruling but was ordered to surrender to police at York.
Speaking after the hearing, the attorney general said: "Neil Wilson exploited a young and vulnerable girl. He pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child, making indecent photographs of a child and possessing extreme pornography.
"I asked the Court of Appeal to examine whether the sentence was appropriate, given the seriousness of the offences, and I am pleased that they have found that this sentence was unduly lenient and have imposed an immediate sentence of imprisonment."
Lord Thomas said: "There were other aggravating factors to this case. First of all the offender must have known, as the judge said, that she was under 16. By his plea he accepted that. The fact that she may have looked more than her age is irrelevant.
"He must have appreciated her vulnerability. She was in school uniform. She had absconded from school and was asking for cigarettes on the street in Romford.
"The offender plainly preyed on her vulnerability and encouraged her by buying her cigarettes and inviting her to his flat and he gave her his mobile phone."
He sent her "sexually explicit" text messages and it was "plain he had a sexual interest in children".
Lord Thomas said: "The only mitigating factor is his guilty plea."
There may be some cases where immediate imprisonment would not be the "just and right sentence", but in Wilson's case there were "no circumstances whatsoever" that justified departure from the principle that normally an immediate prison sentence should be imposed.
Following Wilson's sentencing in August, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that prosecuting barrister Robert Colover had agreed to resign from the CPS Rape Panel of advocates, admitting his description of the girl was inappropriate.
The CPS said he "will remain on our general advocate panel and will still be instructed in other criminal cases".
A number of complaints about remarks made during sentencing by Judge Nigel Peters, who said he was taking into account how the girl looked and behaved, are being "considered" by the Judicial Conduct and Investigations Office (formerly the Office for Judicial Complaints).
Lord Thomas said that how prosecuting counsel "came to make the remarks he did is not a matter, as he is not present, we can investigate ourselves".
He added: "But in any event it is the duty of the court to sentence on the facts before it. Counsel is there to assist.
"The fact that counsel makes a fundamental error in introducing a factor that is thought to be relevant cannot in any way affect the power of this court in determining what is the correct sentence."
Lord Thomas went on: "This is a case where there is no dispute as to what actually happened. It is simply a case where the judge and counsel were in error that it was relevant, as a mitigating factor, that the sexual activity had been initiated by the victim. That was wrong."
He said the court had been told by counsel for the Crown that the word "predatory" had not been used in respect of the victim by the police in any documentation provided to the CPS or by the CPS in any instructions to counsel. The word had only been used in relation to the defendant.
Detective Inspector Simon Ellershaw, of the Metropolitan Police's sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command, said: "It is unfortunate when some within the criminal justice system perpetuate the myth that vulnerable young people are in some way to blame for the sexual abuse that they suffer.
"The sentence passed today at the Royal Courts of Justice goes some way to redress this. I hope that this will give other victims the confidence to come forward.
"Neil Wilson is the only predator in this case - he took advantage of a girl who was extremely vulnerable in the worst way possible.''
Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, said: "We are pleased that a more just sentence has now been imposed on this sex offender by the Court of Appeal, although the judge in the original court case should have done this.
"The handling of the case at the time was a perversion of justice and the depiction of a vulnerable child as somehow complicit in their abuse was a disgrace.
"It underlined the urgent need for all legal professionals acting in child abuse cases to be required to attend regular specialist training so that incorrect assumptions about abuse victims can be challenged."