We looked last week at the case of Emily Fox, a teacher who pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a female pupil of hers, where we were slightly criticised for laying into that bastion of journalism, the Daily Mail. We suggested that they might generally a bit sensationalist when reporting sex cases. A bit, well, like this.
On 12th August 2014 the case of Hayley Southwell was reported. Ms Southwell was a 27 year old teacher who had a fully consensual relationship with a female pupil when she was aged from 16 to 18.
This was, however, illegal, by virtue of s16 Sexual Offences Act 2003. This raised the age of consent from 16 to 18 where the perpetrator is in a position of trust.
The maximum sentence is five years. Ms Southwell was sentenced to 12 months, but suspended for two years.
The Sentencing Guidelines for this offence are at page 67. The Judge found a ‘degree of planning and grooming’, but there does not appear to be any other factors. This would be enough, technically, to put it into Culpability A, although this would be a feature of many similar cases.
What we don’t know is what the sexual activity actually was, although by implication it appears to have been a Category 1 case.
That would give a starting point of 18 months, with a range of 1-2 years. Allowing for credit for a plea of guilty, this gives the sentence that was passed of 12 months.
As to whether to suspend the sentence, that is something for the Judge to decide, seemingly unbound by guidance from the Court of Appeal. The Judge took account of the fact that Ms Southwell had never been in trouble before and had completely ruined what was a promising career in teaching and decided that she did not need to go to prison.
This sentence seems an eminently sensible one. This offences presents a very difficult sentencing exercise for a Judge. On the one hand this is consensual sexual activity by two people who are above the age of consent. On the other, it is a criminal offence and needs to be marked as such.
It seems to me that the complete ruining of Ms Southwell, coupled with the fact that she won’t be able to work at her chosen career, is enough, and there is no need to further punish her by locking her up.