On 1st June 2016 Southwark Crown Court, often home to frauds that last many months, hosted one of the shortest trials that a Crown Court will deal with this year.
Patrick Rock, a former Deputy Director of Policy to David Cameron, who has also previously advised on how to restrict internet pornography in order to protect children, stood trial in relation to 20 images of children that he had on his iPad.
Mr Rock was convicted in relation to 5 of these, found not guilty in relation to 3. In relation to the remaining 12, the jury could not agree and have been discharged. It is understood that there will not be a retrial on those matters.
In 2013 Mr Rock downloaded various images onto his ipad. Included in this were 20 images of nine different girls aged between 10 and 16.
These were not ‘pornographic’ (not actually a legal term in the UK), at least according to the USA who declined to prosecute for child pornography offences (possibly because of the stronger free speech protection under the First Amendment).
The trial was so short as Mr Rock accepted that he had downloaded them, and that the girls were aged under 18 (the legal age of consent for taking indecent images). The issue at trial was whether they were ‘indecent’.
Mr Rock did not give evidence. In fairness, it’s hard to see what he could have added to the picture, as really the jury were just dealing with this legal question rather than establishing any facts.
The girls were not naked, but they were “posing in bikinis, hot pants and a bra“. The prosecution said that “they were in “deliberately sexual” poses that drew attention to their genital and breast areas“.
The sentence has been adjourned until tomorrow.
What was the offence?
It is slightly frustrating that it is not immediately apparent from the news reports. We are reasonably confident that the offences were making indecent photographs of children, contrary to s1 Protection of Children Act 1978.
It is slightly confusing, as ‘making’ would imply taking a photo, or something of that nature. Actually, making covers anyone who downloads a photo from the internet, as they are deemed to ‘make’ a new copy.
The reason for this is due to statutory time limits in the early days of the internet. It probably is misleading, but people will be sentenced on the basis of possession, so there is no real injustice (see paras 15-27).
Essentially, the jury should ask themselves whether the photograph contravenes “the standards of decency of ordinary and right-thinking people“. If a photograph is ‘erotic’ then it will be indecent.
It is slightly circular, but the jury can ask themselves whether “a right-thinking person [would] think that those were indecent photographs?“.
In deciding this, the jury have to focus on the photograph itself rather than the intention of the photographer.
What is indecent?
It’s a very complicated question, and is ultimately one for the jury.
Unsurprisingly, this has been considered on many occasions by the Court of Appeal. The law is summarised quite well in the case of Miles  EWCA Crim 353.
What will Mr Rock get?
The starting point will be the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Offences. Turning to p76, we can see that it is a Category C offence – the lowest one – and it will be sentenced as possession.
The Judge has already ruled out custody. We would imagine that it will fall at the bottom of that category, so would expect some kind of Community Order, unless the Judge feels that that is not necessary in which case a financial penalty may be in order.