New sexual assault sentencing rules needed after student avoids punishment for attack on girl, say campaigners

Teenage dental student from Glasgow found guilty but granted absolute discharge

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Friday 15 February 2019 13:52
Scottish Labour says the case shows sentencing guidelines must be updated as a 'matter of urgency'
Scottish Labour says the case shows sentencing guidelines must be updated as a 'matter of urgency'

Labour has called for new guidelines for sexual assault sentences after a teenager found guilty of attacking a six-year-old girl for more than two years walked free from court and faced no punishment.

Christopher Daniel, an 18-year-old dental student from Glasgow, was found guilty of repeated sexual assaults on the young girl over two years but was granted an absolute discharge by sheriff Gerard Sinclair.

The teenager, who was aged between 15 and 17 at the time, will not be placed on the sex offenders register or have any criminal record.

Scottish Labour said the case showed sentencing guidelines must be updated as a “matter of urgency” – particularly in relation to attacks on young people.

After the verdict was reached at Dumbarton Sheriff Court following a three-day trial, a Judicial Office for Scotland statement said: “The sheriff considered the offence to be the result of an entirely inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification.”

It added any recorded conviction for the offence would have “serious consequences in terms of the accused's future career” and any sentence would mean Mr Daniel would “probably be unable to continue his university course”.

In a letter to the Sentencing Council, Scottish Labour's justice spokesperson, Daniel Johnson, wrote: “The response to the verdict and subsequent written report has been one of shock and confusion, not only from the public but also organisations like Scottish Rape Crisis.”

Mr Johnson, who is an MSP, added: “I am deeply concerned that as well as the distress the verdict has caused for the victim's family, there is a risk of disillusionment and lack of confidence in our sheriffs.

”I see from your website that you are currently developing guidelines on the sentencing process, the sentencing of young people, death by driving and environmental and wildlife crime.

”I would ask that in light of the recent choice not to pass sentence on Christopher Daniel and the public response, the Sentencing Council consider making developing guidelines on sexual assault, giving particular attention to sentencing of young people, a matter of urgency.“

Mr Sinclair noted the victim of Mr Daniel's sexual assaults "appeared to have suffered no injury or long-lasting effects", but at First Minister’s Questions in January Tory MSP Liam Kerr told Nicola Sturgeon the decision had ”devastated" the child's family.

Ms Sturgeon said she understood concerns surrounding a ”wholly exceptional“ court decision to grant an absolute discharge, which has resulted in thousands signing a petition calling for Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to review the case.

By Thursday afternoon, more than 17,000 people had signed the petition started by Marisa Keegan, who wrote: ”Our system is putting criminals' careers before our children's welfare.

“What kind of world do we live in that this is seen as an acceptable decision by the court?”

An investigation by Scottish TV channel STV found the victim’s family believed too much emphasis was given to the student’s middle-class background, strong educational attainment and career prospects.

The young girl’s mother said she thought she would be handed a bigger sentence if she shoplifted something from a supermarket.

“How is that justice? How does this teach anything to anybody that’s committing this crime?” she added. “My idea isn’t that he gets strung up and we throw him in prison and we lock the key away, but this is what the sex offenders’ register is for. It is to protect children.”

She added: “We should all be fearful if that goes to appeal again and it doesn’t get sorted and he doesn’t get put on a sex offenders’ register.”

Additional reporting by PA

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