Judge attacks 'no jail' ruling in indecent assault cases

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The Independent Online
A senior Crown Court judge yesterday criticised Court of Appeal rulings that allowed men who indecently assaulted women to avoid a custodial sentence.

Jailing Scott Townsend for a 'richly deserved' six months for rubbing himself against a female Tube train passenger, Judge Gerald Butler QC said at Southwark Crown Court that he would have run the risk of 'public anger' if he had not passed a jail sentence on the defendant.

The judge then called on the High Court to 'consider the matter afresh', as offences of this kind were now 'so prevalent'. Townsend, 22, who had another six months added to his sentence for intimidating female jurors who tried him, had denied simulating intercourse with the female passenger on a crowded rush-hour Victoria line train last March.

He was seen committing the offence by four plain-clothes police officers in the same carriage.

Before passing sentence, Judge Butler, Southwark's senior judge, mentioned recent Court of Appeal rulings that declared it was wrong in principle that men who committed this type of offence should be jailed. A community service order or a fine with a compensation in costs order was the proper approach.

The appeal court's decision followed the referral of two cases where men had 'ground' against women on the same Tube line.

David Marshall, for Townsend, argued that in the view of the legal authorities his client should not be jailed, although he conceded some people might find the appeal court's approach 'surprising, if not astonishing'.

Judge Butler said: 'I would agree with your remarks.' Although bound by the rulings, he felt that after 'giving a great deal of thought to this matter', that he could make a distinction between Townsend and the two men who featured in the cases before the Court of Appeal. Townsend, of Camberwell, south-east London, who denied indecent assault, had 'numerous' previous convictions, although none were of a sexual nature.