A paedophile who sexually abused two teenage girls he met in an internet chat room had his sentence increased yesterday following a protest from the Attorney General.
Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the three years given to 36-year-old electronics engineer Michael Wheeler at Norwich Crown Court in June was "significantly too lenient" for one of the worst cases of internet abuse. They jailed him for an additional 18 months. Wheeler, described by police as "cold and calculating", was not in court to hear the ruling by Lord Justice Kay, Mr Justice Poole and Mr Justice Treacy.
The period he must remain on licence was increased by six months to two and a half years and he was also disqualified from working with children.
Detectives believe Wheeler deliberately exploited the current law on sentencing by waiting until the girls were 13 before having sex with them. The maximum sentence for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 is life. But the current maximum sentence for a girl aged 13 to 16 is two years. However, the Sexual Offences Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will increase the maximum sentence to 14 years.
Lord Justice Kay said: "The court takes a particularly serious view of the way in which these offences came to be committed.
"The use by older men of internet chat rooms used by young girls can have no acceptable justification. It is an area in which the courts need to deliver a clear message of disapproval.
"Where a man considerably older than a teenager makes contact with young girls in this way and this leads to sexual offences against the girls it needs to be clearly understood that sentences will be to the top end of the range."
The mother of one of his victims said that she did not think the new custodial sentence of four and a half years imposed on Wheeler, of Cambridge, was enough.
The 41-year-old mother of child "C", who is now 14, said: "I am happy but personally I expected a lot more and wanted a lot more."
Wheeler's sentence was increased following an application to the judges on behalf of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, last week.
After the ruling, he said: "This was a terrible case of premeditated and systematic child sexual abuse.
"Sentences for sexual abuse of vulnerable child victims must reflect the long-term psychological damage caused by sex offences, to victims and their families.
"The Court of Appeal has sent a clear message that these offences must be treated very seriously."
John Carr, an internet adviser for the children's charity NCH, said: "Everybody was surprised and shocked at the original sentence so this puts that right. It was so clearly lenient in the first instance. This was one of the worst ever cases of internet abuse."Reuse content