On 25 September 2015, the Coventry Telegraph reported on the story of Mr David Smith and his pending nuptials. Unfortunately for Mr Smith, what is usually a happy time in a person’s life was, for him, clouded by the pending sentencing for child sexual offences.
Well, having originally been charged with causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and sexually assault a child under the age of 13, he pleaded guilty to counts of sexual grooming.
Grooming involves meeting or attempting to meet a child following communication (usually via the internet) with the intention to commit a relevant offence (i.e. a child sex offence). It used to be that there had to be two separate incidents of communication but a legislative amendment earlier this year changed the ingredients of the offence (rather unusually) to require only one such incident of contact before a meeting or attempted meeting.
The news report states that he “forced” one girl, aged 13, to “perform a sex act” upon him – firstly, if that were so, one might have expected a charge of oral rape (“perform a sex act” being newspaper speak for oral sex”) and secondly, as the Crown have accepted a plea to grooming, it is presumably accepted that no activity did in fact occur, despite having the intention to do engage in such activity. The report also states that he had kissed the younger girl (aged 12) on the lips, however, again, by accepting pleas to grooming, it must be accepted that the conduct did not in fact occur.
The offences were committed before the legislative amendment and so two communications or meetings would have been required for the offence to be made out. In those circumstances, it isn’t entirely clear how the grooming occurred as the news report states that Smith met the girls whilst at the swimming baths with his son. Presumably there was some prior contact, otherwise two chance meetings at the swimming baths would not appear to be sufficient.
The news report states that the prosecutor told the court that there were “evidential difficulties” and as a result the two grooming counts were put to Smith, which he duly admitted.
With wedding bells looming, and the need for an adjournment for a pre-sentence report, the defence asked for this adjournment to be extended to allow Smith to get married at the end of October, and thereafter to be permitted to go on his honeymoon. The judge acceded to the request stating that as there had been a two year delay from the commission of the offence to the conviction, in his view, another couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt.
That would seem to generous and pragmatic. The judge was of course not bound to grant the request but in circumstances where the defence said a lot in Smith’s life had changed, is there anything to be gained by ruining his wedding day? Perhaps the support of loving partner will help Smith with his rehabilitation and not result in reoffending – if so, then an extra couple of weeks is well worth it, surely.
Whilst the news report is written pretty neutrally, the headline – making the story about the judge rather than the defendant – suggest a tinge of outrage. Views will be mixed but this does appear to be a sensible use of discretion (unless once in the Maldives he disappears, never to return!).
Smith will return for sentence in November.
The Sexual Offences guideline (see p.63) On the facts in the news reports, it seems arguable that this is a category 3 offence with a starting point of 18 months and a range of 1 to 2.5 years. There will (likely) be full credit for the guilty pleas as Smith pleaded at the first opportunity, when the new grooming offences were put to him (that seems counter to logic but prior to the prosecutor asking for new charges to be put, there was no opportunity for him to plead to grooming, and so it is fair that he receives full credit).
As for the eventual sentence, we can’t really comment as the facts are so sparse. We’ll keep an eye out in November for the conclusion. And maybe some wedding photos.