On 6 June 2016, Richard Huckle, aged 30, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 23 years following guilty pleas to 71 counts of serious child sexual offences.
a. raped numerous children of varying ages, from infant children, toddlers and pre-teen children;
b. he filmed and photographed many of his offences and shared the images with other sexual offenders via the dark web;
c. he possessed 20,000 indecent images of children (still and moving);
d. used images of him raping a young girl aged 3 to raise money on a crowd-funding website; and
e. produced what was described as a “paedophile’s handbook” advising others how to avoid having their criminal activities detected.
He worked with churches and schools having undergone a teaching course with the British Council. He committed many offences in Malaysia and Sky News reported that he used the teaching as a cover to commit many of his offences.
In relation to his activity on the dark web, he was found to have commented:
“It’s quite amazing to have stuck with the same child lover for so many years and I hope, from the images you have seen, enjoyed watching her grow.
“It’s not often in child porn you can compare the bodies of a 5yo and a 12yo that are the same girl. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more sex with (her) in the future.”
Huckle was reportedly due to stand trial at the Old Bailey, however he subsequently pleaded guilty to the offences. As the offences were committed (largely) abroad, the question arises as to how he can be prosecuted and sentenced in the UK.
In 2003, Parliament changed the law, enabling the prosecution of offences committed outside of the UK where they would constitute offences under English law.
Huckle pleaded guilty to 71 counts including rape of a child under 13.
The judge was of course required to impose a sentence on each count (or impose no separate penalty), but of course the ‘headline’ is the effect of all of those sentences:
Huckle will serve a sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 23 years. Life sentences were imposed on 22 of the 71 counts.
The judge, HHJ Peter Rook QC – who has particular expertise in trying and sentencing in sexual offences cases – said “It is very rare indeed that a judge has to sentence sexual offending by one person on such a scale as this.”
We predicted a life sentence – that seemed rather obvious given the gravity of the offences giving rise to the inevitable conclusion that Huckle is a very dangerous individual requiring a sentence of life imprisonment. However the difficult task in this case was determining the minimum term. We suggested, first, it would be in excess of 15 years and then, after reading more information in the press, that it would be in excess of 20 years.
The minimum term is (usually) half of the period which would have been imposed had a life sentence not been passed. This is because there is a need to reflect the effect of the release provisions which do not apply to life sentences: under a ‘normal’ determinate sentence, a prisoner will serve half in custody and half on licence. So when a judge says “10 years” it means 5 in, and 5 out. Where a life sentence is imposed, those release provisions do not apply, and the judge sets a minimum term, requiring the prisoner to serve at least the minimum term, so when a judge sets a minimum term of 10 years, it means (at least) 10 years in prison.
So, in this case, a 23 year minimum term is equivalent to a 46-year determinate term. However, Huckle pleaded guilty, and so the starting point is likely to be between 10 and 33% higher than that. We would anticipate the reduction for the guilty plea to be less than the usual full third for pleading guilty early due to the overwhelming evidence in this case. In any event, we are looking at a starting point of in excess of 50 years, and probably a fair bit higher than that.
Accordingly, we suspect there will be an appeal, simply because sexual offending on this scale has not been seen before and so the judge had little by way of guidance – the guidelines do not assist and there is no case law from the Court of Appeal. However, that said, these appear to be such serious offences, committing in almost every aggravating circumstance of which it is capable to conceive, that a successful appeal must look unlikely.
If – or when – the sentencing remarks are published, we will have a look to see if anything contained therein changes anything we have had to say.