Court overturns boy rapist's 'lenient' sentence

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The Independent Online
A 15-year-old rapist ordered to pay his schoolgirl victim pounds 500 for a holiday was ordered to serve two years' detention yesterday after the Court of Appeal overturned the 'unduly lenient' sentence.

Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, said the rape had been aggravated by the fact that he had forced his victim to perform oral sex, that she was only 15 and by the effects on her mental health. She is still receiving pyschiatric treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder suffering flashbacks, nightmares, acute depression, anxiety and irritability. A non-custodial sentence was 'untenable', he said.

But he added that Judge John Prosser did not deserve the vilification which had followed the supervision and compensation orders he had imposed on the boy at Cardiff Crown Court. While some of the judge's comments had been 'infelicitous to say the least', in the entire context of his judgment the pounds 500 compensation order was not trivialising the issue. 'He was not in any way suggesting that after a pounds 500 holiday the girl would be as right as rain,' Lord Taylor said.

The boy, who for the past five weeks has been living at home and attending a special probation programme, looked initially stunned and disbelieving at the Court of Appeal's ruling. He is likely to serve a year of the two-year sentence in a young offender institution - run by prison officers mostly for teenage offenders - when he will be released under supervision.

The victim's father, from Gwent, said he was pleased by yesterday's ruling. But relatives of the rapist claimed it was a 'political' decision made against the background of public outrage at juvenile crime. However, Lord Taylor, sitting with Mr Justice Henry and Mr Justice Blofeld, emphasised that the sentence was far less than an adult would have received for rape. Guidelines suggest that rapists should get a minimum of five years, with extra penalties for aggravated circumstances. Further, he said, the boy, by pleading not guilty, had put his victim through the added ordeal of giving evidence and of being cross- examined.

The appeal was brought by the Attorney General, who since 1988 has been empowered to challenge sentences regarded as too lenient. John Nutting QC, for the Attorney General, argued that rape, particularly when accompanied by aggravating features, should except in 'wholly exceptional circumstances' attract a custodial sentence. It would mark the gravity of the offence, emphasise the disapproval of the public, serve as a warning to others, punish the offender and protect women and girls.

Patrick Harrington, the boy's counsel, had argued for leniency. He was only 15 and of previous good character. Further, the fortnight he spent in custody awaiting sentence in Cardiff jail - sharing a cell with a 19-year-old accused of very serious homosexual offences against teenage boys - had had a profound effect on him. Mr Harrington conceded that a 'substantial' custodial sentence was right for the vast majority of rape cases, but said: 'The effects on this child have been horrendous. He has almost lived the life of a hermit.'