Law Report: Prison sentence imposed for serious offence: Attorney-General's Reference No 13 of 1993 - Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Taylor of Gosforth, Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Alliott and Mr Justice Buckley), 29 July 1993

A custodial sentence was appropriate for the serious offence of attempted unlawful intercourse with a nine-year-old girl.

The Court of Appeal imposed a sentence of four months' imprisonment on the defendant, Karl Justin Gambrill, for an offence of attempted unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13.

The defendant, who was aged 18 at the time of the offence, pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court. The offence was committed when the defendant, who had no previous convictions, was babysitting the victim, a girl of nine.

Judge Starforth Hill QC, when sentencing the defendant to two years' probation, remarked that the girl was not entirely an angel but that was no excuse for the defendant and said that the little girl could not be blamed at all. The Attorney-General applied for a review of the sentence on the ground that it was unduly lenient.

John Nutting (CPS) for the Attorney-General; Thomas Field-Fisher QC and Janice Brennan (Ewing Hickman & Clark) for the defendant.

LORD TAYLOR LCJ, giving the court's judgment, said that the judge's remark should not have been made and was unacceptable. However, the way it was seized upon and extracted out of context by the media was regrettable. The judge's comment that there was no excuse for the defendant and that the girl could not be blamed did not figure in any press reports before the court. The court stressed that it did not assist the administration of justice for a campaign to be mounted on the basis of a phrase reported out of context and used to vilify the judge. The effect of the campaign was that the defendant's family had been forced to move home and had lost jobs. The court had considered all the circumstances. An attempt to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a nine-year-old girl was an extremely serious matter. The two principles that a custodial sentence was appropriate for an offence of unlawful sexual intercourse, or an attempt against a very young girl, and the need for an element of deterrence required that the court should have imposed a custodial sentence. The circumstances did not justify only probation. A custodial sentence of four months imprisonment was imposed.