Jeremy Forrest was sentenced on 21st June 2013 to one year for an offence of Child Abduction. He was convicted the day before (our coverage is here).
In addition, he pleaded guilty to five counts of ‘Sexual Activity with a Child‘. He was only charged with these offences this morning. He received 4½ years for those offences, consecutive to the 1 year for abduction, making 5½ in total.
The Judge’s sentencing remarks have been published.
The maximum sentence for Abduction is 7 years. Mr Forrest had a trial, so there could be no ‘credit’ for a plea of guilty. This sentence seems about right in the circumstances, although regard would have had to been had to ‘totality – the idea that when you step back and look at the whole sentence, it should be the right one.
There are guidelines for the offence of Sexual Activity with a Child (see page 50). The maximum sentence is 14 years.
The sexual activity appears to have been in the highest category with a starting point of 4 years after a trial and a range of 3-7 years after a trial. This would appear to be (having regard to the plea of guilty) the maximum sentence.
The Judge identified the fact that Mr Forrest was a teacher, with the responsibility that that entails was an aggravating feature – he was someone who should have known better. Also, the history of the relationship and the fact that Mr Forrest had lied to friends and colleagues to cover up the blossoming relationship and had turned down offers of help.
Dealing with the fact that the offences were undoubtedly (factually) consensual, the Judge considered whether that was a mitigating feature, but “to urge that argument is to ignore the rationale for the ‘age of consent’ rules. It was your duty as a teacher to stop her infatuation, not to fuel it“.
The Judge, in effect, described Mr Forrest as a predatory groomer who was still manipulating X. Commenting on the evidence that X gave, he said: “Where is that genuine care for her welfare that is the hallmark of a truly loving relationship?”
The Judge then made a slight reduction of the sentence to take account of totality and imposed the sentence of 4½ years for the sexual offences.
Child Abduction is NOT a listed offence for the purposes of the Sex Offenders Register. Therefore Mr Forrest would not have been subject to the requirements due to the conviction for abduction (although I would not be surprised if there was a demand in the media for that to be changed). He will be subject to the conditions for the other sexual offences however.
Why did the other sexual offences only get charged today?
Mr Forrest was returned to the UK by virtue of the European Arrest Warrant. Contained within that is the principle of ‘Specialty‘. It’s a complicated area of law, but the main principle is that the requesting state (here the UK) has to state all the offences for which they wish to extradite the suspect.
In this case, the extradition request was only for the offence of Child Abduction. As a consequence, he could not have been prosecuted for other sexual offences that may have been committed in the UK (certain exceptions do apply under s146 Extradition Act 2003, but none seem to fit this case).
It is likely that the evidence relating to the sexual offences had not been collected by the time the extradition request was made (it seems to have come from X’s mobile phone) which is why it was not included.
It seems that after the trial Mr Forrest waived his right “not to be dealt with for the [sexual] offence.” For that reason, he could then be charged with the sexual offences, which he thereupon pleaded guilty to.
It seems, therefore, that Mr Forrest should receive full credit for the plea of guilty (he was entitled to stand upon the law in relation to the extradition – also, there is no suggestion that he denied the sexual offences at any time).
Did Mr Forrest commit any other offences?
The age of consent in France is 15 (unlike the UK) and therefore no offence would have been committed by Mr Forrest and X having sexual intercourse whilst in France.
Will there be an appeal?
Almost certainly. The sentence of 4½ years appears to have been based on a starting point of 7 years (allowing for full credit for the plea and the ‘slight reduction’). This is the top of the suggested range. Whilst there were aggravating features of Mr Forrest being in a position of trust and a vulnerable victim (and possibly the age of Mr Forrest – he wasn’t a teenager), the fact that the victim was close to the age of consent is seen as a mitigating feature, as is, possibly, the factual consent.
The sentence for the abduction does seem correct. Given the other offences, it does raise the question of whether it was necessary to have a trial for that, with all the distress caused, as well as the expense of an 8 day trial, but that is perhaps something best considered at a later stage.
Putting that together, whilst this was a serious offence and a custodial sentence was necessary, it does seem to me that the sentence as a whole was too high. Had all the sentences been concurrent (so the total was 4½ years) it would still have been on the high side, but probably not manifestly excessive.
The high profile nature of the case means that any appeal will be watched closely. The Court of Appeal will be reluctant to interfere with the sentence. My ‘feel’ (and obviously I have not read the evidence or seen the trial) is that a sentence in the region of around 4 years would have been appropriate. But, then what do I know? I’ve certainly been wrong before…
*NOTE – There is a lot of (mis)information flying around, so this post will be edited for accuracy.