Has Simon Danczuk broken the law by sending ‘sexually explicit messages’ to...

    Has Simon Danczuk broken the law by sending ‘sexually explicit messages’ to a 17 year old?

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    Introduction 
    Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, is a bit of a marmite of a politician; you either love him or hate him. Judging by social media, it’s the latter for many people. 

    On 31st December 2015 there was a certain amount of schaudenfruede after the MP seemingly got caught up in a classic tabloid sting by The Sun (Guardian report is here). 

    It seems that Mr Danczuk had been approached by Sophena Houlihan, a 17 year old constituent, who was looking for a job as a case worker in his office.

    Although they had never met, “Danczuk allegedly told Houlihan that he was “horny” and asked her if she wanted “spanking”” after seeing photos of her on Instagram. 

    It wasn’t one sided. Ms Houlihan had been flirtatious as well; after being asked for a picture “she sent him one of her wearing a revealing white body suit. Danczuk said: “Why aren’t you here in Spain wearing that costume?! Lol. When the teenager joked it would “look better on your bedroom floor”, he replied: “God help me”

    According to Ms Houlihan, ” “I enjoyed the attention”, adding that “There is something about him that I was attracted to” before saying that she had felt duped by the end. 

     

    Has he broken the law?

    The short answer is no. 

    The age of consent for sexual offences is 16, unless there is an abuse of trust due to the nature of the respective power positions of both parties. 

    These are defined in s22 Sexual Offences Act 2003 and does not include a prospective employer who never met the complainant. 

    Therefore, as Ms Houlihan was over 16, no offence under the Sexual Offence Act would have been committed. 

    As we have commented previously, there’s an anomaly in the sexual offences laws in that the age of consent for images is 18. For that reason, had Ms Houlihan sent Mr Danczuk explicit photos of herself, they would both be guilty of an offence under s1 Protection of Children Act 1978 (although in practice only he would be prosecuted). 

    But she didn’t, and there is no offence on sending explicit messages back and forth to someone aged 17. 

    The only other offence could be harassment. But this would only be if the contact was unwanted. Which, in this case, it clearly wasn’t at the time. 
    Conclusion

    Mr Danczuk has been suspended from the Labour Party. Time will tell whether any action is taken by them but, whilst this is clearly deeply embarrassing for the MP, he has done nothing illegal. 

      

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    Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

    6 COMMENTS

    1. From the linked Grauniad report:
      Greater Manchester police confirmed that they had looked into a report that Danczuk had been “communicating inappropriately with a teenage girl” after a complaint was made to them on 29 December 2015. “This matter was looked into and it has been determined that no offences have been committed,” they said in a statement.

    2. Is the age of consent 18 if the persons concerned are married to each other?

      What if she is 15 and they are married, being domiciled in a country where that is lawful?

      What a nonsense the law makes when it is not consistent, doesn’t it?

    3. We don’t really know the full extent of the texts do we and on past form The Sun surely has more to come. Ánd the other participant may actually begin to feel she was harassed and is giving that indication. I think this blog is really just going on the facts as presented to date and is correct but do we have the full picture?. It may be legal but for an MP – an abuse campaigner- is it moral ? In my book I couldn’t give a damn but according to Simon Danczuk’s rules, he’s toast.

    4. “had Ms Houlihan sent Mr Danczuk explicit photos of herself, they would both be guilty of an offence under s1 Protection of Children Act 1978 (although in practice only he would be prosecuted).”
      The term ‘strict liability’ comes up in relation to indecent images of minors. Is this what we see here? If someone under 18 sends someone such an image of themselves, unsolicited, and it is therefore on the recipient’s phone, is the recipient really to be guilty of an offence even though there is no mens rea and they did nothing to obtain the image?

      • Under s.160 CJA 1988 (possession of indecent photograph) there is a defence “that the photograph or pseudo-photograph was sent to him without any prior request made by him or on his behalf and that he did not keep it for an unreasonable time.”

        In this case I dont think s.1 PCA 1978 would apply to Danczuk as that concerns possession with an intention to distribute – and given the media circus I think we can safely assume he didn’t want the communications/images shared beyond the two of them!

    5. As a 17 year old child, those pictures, within the sex industry and child protection rulings, are technically considered Child Pornography.
      Surely?

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