The Daily Mail reported on 20th August 2015 on the case of Michael Taylor. Mr Tayor, who ran a petting farm and animal sanctuary where he sexually assaulted two teenagers (aged 15 and 17) was ‘spared jail’ as the Judge “could not go beyond prosecution guidelines“.
Apparently the NSPCC said that this course of action “did not ‘feel morally right’.” But was it legally correct?
It seems that Mr Taylor, who ran a petting zoo, took advantage of this position to prey on the two victims. He “made sure the girls were alone before kissing and cuddling them, the court was told. On one occasion, he offered £100 for a ‘kiss and a cuddle’.
He also sent the girls text messages and told them they were beautiful before urging them to delete the messages. He ‘forcefully’ kissed the 17-year-old on the lips which she described as ‘disgusting’, the court heard.
During the same period, between July and October 2013, he kissed the 15-year-old girl, and touched her bottom and breasts over her clothes“.
Mr Taylor was 75 and of good character.
He was sentenced by the Judge to a 3 year Community Order with a requirement to undertake a Community Sex Offender Programme. He will be subject to the requirements of the Sex Offenders Register, but is allowed to continue working at the farm.
What are “prosecution guidelines”?
Don’t know. The news report mentions it twice though, as above and also; “because of Crown Prosecution Service guidelines relating to the age of the victims and the seriousness of the assaults, Judge Lynch said she was unable to put Taylor behind bars“.
We assume that they mean the Sentencing Council’s Guidelines for Sexual Offences.
Looking at this (page 17), it seems that these were isolated incidents. It’s probably Category 3 (the victims were young, but not on the face of it ‘particularly’ vulnerable because of this).
As to what ‘culpability’ it is, it could be an ‘abuse of trust’ (because it was at Mr Taylor’s place of work), and there could be a degree of planning, but on balance it would probably Culpability B.
This gives a starting point of a Community Order, with a range up to 6 months in prison. There were two offences and even if it is Culpability B, there was some element of ‘grooming’. On the other hand, there was a guilty plea.
On this basis, we are not surprised that a non-immediate sentence was imposed. In light of the Guidelines, could a sentence of, say, 3 months imprisonment (but suspended for 2 years) have been argued with? We would suggest not.
Was the Judge right?
In one sense no. As has been often said, the guidelines are just that – guidelines. A judge is perfectly entitled to go outside of the guidelines, as long as she justifies why she is doing so.
But, beyond that, this would appear to be a case where a custodial sentence could have been justified on the Guidelines. We would suggest that the actual sentence was a very sensible one – the fact that Mr Taylor can continue working at the farm suggests that he is not a risk and there is a much lower chance of re-offending with this sentence than a short prison sentence.
However, we would not agree that the Judge was bound to pass this sentence. This is probably bad reporting of what the Judge actually said when she sentenced him.