On 2 June 2016, Patrick Rock, former aide to the Prime Minister, was sentenced for offences of making indecent images of children (s1 Protection of Children Act 1978). He had earlier had a trial and was:
a. convicted by a jury of five counts,
b. found not guilty in relation to three counts, and
c. the jury could not agree in relation to the remaining 12 counts.
In 2013 Mr Rock downloaded various images onto his iPad. Included in this were 20 images of nine different girls aged between 10 and 16.
Count 2 – a child who was a little over 10;
Count 12 – a child of just under 12;
Count 17 – a child a little over 12;
Count 18 – a child of 14 1⁄2; and
Count 20 – a child of 14.
The trial was short as Mr Rock accepted that he had downloaded them, and that the girls were aged under 18 (the relevant age for indecent images). The issue at trial was whether or not they were ‘indecent’.
Mr Rock did not give evidence; it’s hard to see what he could have added as the jury were just dealing with the legal question of indecency rather than establishing any facts.
The girls were not naked, but they were “posing in bikinis, hot pants and a bra“. The prosecution said that “they were in “deliberately sexual” poses that drew attention to their genital and breast areas“.
The images were taken by others, not Mr Rock. The downloading took place on three occasions over a time span of four days.
We covered the trial here – but in essence, the issue was whether or not the images were in fact indecent. This is a question for the jury. Rock had accepted that he had downloaded the images and so the trial was very short.
The starting point, as is often the case, is the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Offences. Page 76 concerns indecent images and it can be seen that “making” – in this case, making a copy by downloading – is to be sentenced as simple possession.
The judge – HHJ McCreath QC – helpfully made the sentencing remarks available. Applying that guideline, the judge considered that a custodial sentence was not appropriate. He considered a community sentence requiring some treatment to prevent reoffending, however the judge noted that Rock had, two years prior to the trial, voluntarily attended sessions at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation designed to help him address his behaviour. The judge concluded that as he had reportedly engaged well with those sessions, there was no point requiring him to repeat the process at the public’s expense.
Accordingly, concluding that it was “inexpedient to inflict punishment”, the judge imposed a conditional discharge. That serves as a warning and an incentive not to reoffend. The judge made clear that a breach of the discharge would result in a custodial sentence.
The judge also made a sexual harm prevention order prohibiting Rock from a) having a device capable of searching the internet without the capacity of retaining internet browsing history and b) deleting such history. He was also required to make the device available to the police upon request.
The judge commented that the punishment in this case was Rock’s loss of reputation and very public humiliation.
There was an order for costs in the sum of £12,500 and Rock was informed that he must notify as a sex offender – “sign the register” as it is sometime referred to in the press.
We predicted a community sentence or a fine, based on the guideline category range. The judge took this other course – as he is entitled to do – based on the information pertaining to the course that Rock attended some years ago.
The sentencing remarks clearly suggest that when considering the aims of sentencing under CJA 2003 s.142, the judge decided emphasis should be placed upon rehabilitation and the reduction of offending, as opposed to giving primacy to deterrence or punishment (as is often the case). That is a perfectly legitimate course to take, and one which many would consider to be sensible.
Is the sentence proportionate to the harm caused? Our view would be that it is, although some quarters of the press and social media are sure to cry out that there was some special treatment here. We don’t consider that there was. Simply, it appears, the judge thought about what was the best sentence to impose to ensure that Rock does not reoffend.