Eddie Graham, a former RAF intelligence officer pleaded guilty to 16 counts of indecency with a child contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and was convicted of a further 7 offences (The news reports are not clear but we think they were further counts of indecency with a child, although they could also have been offences of gross indecency.) following trial at Bulford Court Martial Centre. Some details of the case have already appeared here, although at this point details were rather sketchy.
An civilian tried by a military court?
Although these offences are civilian offences section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 also makes the offences service offences. However these were serious offences and Mr Graham, who has been a civilian for 10 years now, undoubtedly faces a serious custodial sentence. Why was he not tried in a civilian court? He is now a civilian and his victims were civilians, yet the court is military.
As a general rule, while there is no statute bar to bringing a prosecution of this sort in the civilian courts (as we saw here much older cases are prosecuted) a former serviceman cannot be tried for a service offence unless charged within 6 months of him ceasing to be subject to service discipline. However, s. 61(2) Armed Forces Act allows the Attorney General (currently Rt. Hon. Jeremy Wright QC MP) to consent to a prosecution outside of this time frame. The Attorney General’s powers in this respect are very wide and ill defined.
In this case the nexus between the offending and service considerations was extremely close:
- The offending took place at RAF Gatow in Berlin (part of British Forces Germany)
- The victims were the children of fellow servicemen
- Mr Graham was a scout leader on the base in addition to being a service officer.
- The matter was handed to the RAF Police by civilian police prior to charge.
As such, it is unlikely that the Attorney General will have been much troubled by the request to prosecute in a military court.
The Court Martial also has the power to try civilians subject to service law, who are usually the partners and dependents of service personnel on overseas bases. In such circumstances the board (essentially the jury) will be made up of civilian Ministry of Defence officials. To reflect the fact that Mr Graham had retired from the RAF he was also tried by a board of civilian Ministry of Defence Officials. However the case of UK v Martin made it clear that trying civilians in Court Martial must only occur when there are compelling reasons backed by clear and foreseeable legal basis, substantiated in each case.
More on The Court Martial can be found here
The maximum sentence for indecency with a child was two years imprisonment, although as we have seen in the case of Max Clifford the court should make “measured reference” to the current guidelines and “have regard to” the sentence that would be received if the offences were committed today. It is uncertain from the reports what Mr Graham would have been charged with today as indecency with a child is now covered by several offences. However at the extreme end offences previously sentenced as indecency with a child can carry a life sentence.
As a specialist court The Court Martial is also entitled to consider the effect the offending had on HM Forces and also the effect the sentence will have on HM Forces.
Mr Graham was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment and is automatically subject to notification requirements (known as signing the Sex Offenders Register) for life.
Without the sentencing remarks it is extremely difficult to tell how Mr Graham’s sentence was made up. It is clear that several of the sentences were consecutive and we can assume from the fact that the overall sentence was near the maximum, despite several guilty pleas, for the modern offence of sexual assault on a child under 13 (14 years) that the offences were very serious.
What we do not know is how much the sentence was uplifted to reflect the aggravating factors and the effect the offending would have had on HM Forces. While the Court Martial strives to be a close as possible to their civilian counterparts in both procedure and sentencing it is clear that Mr Graham’s offending was a serious abuse of trust (as an officer and a scout leader) which will have been viewed even more seriously than in a civilian setting.
We will hopefully return to this once we have the sentencing remarks.
By Matthew Bolt.