On 26 September 2014, Dave Lee Travis was sentenced to a 3-month suspended sentence for one count of indecent assault. He was convicted earlier in the week in relation to one of three allegations.
As you will no doubt recall, this was a retrial, as the jury in the first trial (in February 2014) were unable to agree. The offence of which Travis was convicted, however, was a new allegation added before the retrial.
In relation to the two allegations being retried, Travis was found not guilty of one and the jury could not agree as to the other. That, we understand, will not be pursued.
The (brief) facts
Paras - of the sentencing remarks deal with the facts as found by the jury:
The assault took place on 16th January 1995. The woman you assaulted was 22 years old and 4′ 11″ in height. She worked on the Mrs Merton Show; it was her first real job since University. You were in your late 40’s, an experienced presenter and DJ, and still a very well known media personality not only as perceived by the public but also through your own eyes, and, at over 6′ tall you towered over her.
You saw her smoking in the dressing room corridor. You went over to her and said “Oh X you shouldn’t be smoking, think about your poor little lungs.” I have no doubt that you used this as an excuse to get close to her and to touch her. You pinned her up against the wall and started to touch her rib cage and then slid your hands up over her breasts and her clothes, and started squeezing them. You left your hands there for several seconds.
The approach to sentencing
Had DLT been convicted at the first trial, he would have been sentenced according to the “old” sentencing guideline for sexual offences, issued in 2007. This did not apply to indecent assault. However on 1 April 2014 a new guideline came into force. There is no guideline for the offence of indecent assault (as it is an historic offence) however the guideline does contain guidance on the sentencing of historic sexual offences. See Annexe B. We have an overview of the sentencing of historic sexual offences here.
The maximum sentence for indecent assault was amended by parliament on a couple of occasions. In relation to this offence, the maximum sentence is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Earlier in the week, we said:
Looking at the guidelines, if he were to be sentenced now then it would be an offence of Sexual Assault. It is a Category 3 offence, and there doesn’t appear to be any features that would put it in ‘A’ rather than ‘B’ (see page 19). On that basis, the starting point would be a Community Order.
He received 3 months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years. Here, we have an explanation of a suspended sentence.
The sentencing remarks of the judge are available here. As usual, the Judiciary Press Office deserve a pat on the back for getting them out so quickly.
The Judge recounted aspects of the Victim Impact Statement – the opportunity given to victims to explain how the offence affected them. It noted that the victim used humour as a coping mechanism and how she felt scared and was left shaking after the assault.
The Judge considered that the offence crossed the custody threshold, referring to the guidelines for sexual assault, noting that the offence would have fitted into category 3B (as we predicted). However, the aggravating factor of the disparity in age and ‘status’ took the starting point beyond that suggested in the guidelines and therefore a custodial sentence was to be imposed.
It then fell to the judge to determine the appropriate length of the custodial sentence. He considered that 3 months was correct. It then fell to the Judge to considered whether that sentence could be suspended. It is worth noting that this is a very separate stage in the sentencing process – the Judge having already decided what the appropriate length of sentence was.
Due to the mitigation, the Judge felt able to suspend the sentence. It appears that no additional orders were imposed (such as unpaid work or a curfew).
The Judge stated at para  that the offence of indecent assault carried a maximum sentence of 2 years. That was correct…until the law changed in 1985 when the maximum was increased to 10 years. In fairness to the Judge, the sentencing remarks do not state that the 2-year maximum applied to DLT, but it is a little misleading.
The Judge added that the victim surcharge provisions applied to the case – that was incorrect as the offence pre-dates the introduction of the surcharge.
Consequences of a conviction for sexual offences
Generally, a conviction for a sexual offence results in the offender being placed on the sex offenders register. This is known as ‘notification’ as the offender has to notify the police of certain details such as where he or she lives, if they are staying away from their main address, their bank details etc. The length of the notification depends on the sentence they receive. There is fact sheet here. DLT will be placed on the register for a period of 7 years as, even though his sentence was suspended, it is regarded as a custodial sentence and so by virtue of the SOA 2003, a period of imprisonment for 6 months or less results in the notification regime applying for a period of 7 years.
Offenders convicted of sexual offences usually are able to be made subject to SOPOs – Sexual Offences Prevention Orders. There is a factsheet on SOPOs here. In this case, it appears no application was made and the Judge did not consider it necessary to impose one.
As to the length of sentence, I am not surprised. Despite having regard to the guidelines (and the starting point of a non-custodial sentence), one has to factor in the “celebrity premium” which we often see raise the sentence. In my view, it is correct to reflect the disparity in “status” between DLT and the victim and the Judge dealt with that aspect of the case rather well.
As to the Victim Impact Statement and the comments made by DLT, this is a somewhat thorny issue. The VIS mentioned that “Being called a liar and a fantasist and forced to relive events […] has been painful[…] I simply wanted to tell the truth”. The Judge did not refer to that in his sentencing remarks, but did mention the Stuart Hall Attorney General’s Reference – in which it was said the use of the media to protest innocence (and state that the complainants – as they were at that stage) were liars, was an aggravating feature. The prosecution submitted that the same applied to DLT. The Judge took no account of it on the basis that the two situations were very different – Stuart Hall had been convicted of multiple offences, DLT having only been convicted of one and acquitted of many others.
The interesting issue it raises is that after the Stuart Hall AGs Ref, there seems to be a practice of penalising a celebrity for making public comments and some would argue, for the way in which they conduct their defence. It is a divisive issue as, undoubtedly publicly branding complainants (who are later validated in their claims by a conviction) liars is upsetting for them and can increase the harm caused by the offence and the proceedings, however on the other hand, is there not a disparity where the CPS make a statement setting out the allegations and the celebrity is asked (or feels bound) to comment? If so, then it will often be the case that if they are denying the offences, a statement to that effect will include an allegation that the complaints are false and constitute lies.
I wouldn’t have thought so. Although the sentence seems a little bit high (and perhaps had DLT not been in the public eye he would have received a non-custodial sentence) it is certainly within the permissible range. The “celeb premium” is hard to quantify but I’m not convinced in this case 3 months is wrong. As for the suspension, this was granted on the basis of the mitigation; it is unlikely DLT will offend again (not being a multiple offender and having not offended since 1995) and so a suspension was on the cards. It seems to be a sensible, pragmatic, and cost-effective way of marking a serious incident but without unnecessarily imprisoning an ageing man with health problems.
Might there be calls for an Attorney General’s reference? Probably. But that would be a waste of scarce public money, in my view.