On 7 August 2015 – the same day Lord Janner would appear for a committal hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in relation to historical sexual abuse allegations – The Mirror ran a story about Derek Butt, an 85-year-old man who suffered from dementia and had been accused of numerous child sexual offences. The headline ran “Paedophile who raped schoolboy repeatedly over seven years won’t be jailed because of his dementia“.
The facts are limited but it appears that over a period of some seven years, Mr Butt would regularly turn up at the child’s house and offer to take him to the park to “give his mother a break”. In fact, he would take the child to his house where he would rape and sexually assault him. He would then take him for ice cream as a “treat”.
It appears that the allegation was that the abuse had occurred on approximately 200 occasions. This was charged as 14 counts of raping a child and seven of “sexually touching a child” – we assume this is sexual assault of a child. The age of the child is unclear, but he is described as “a schoolboy”.
At a hearing on 3 August 2015, due to Mr Butt’s dementia, it was determined that Mr Butt was unfit to plead. We have a fact sheet on the process of determining whether or not a defendant is fit to plead and therefore can face a trial.
In this case, Mr Butt’s dementia was such that it was considered he was unable to understand the proceedings and therefore unable to put forward a defence. The result was that there would be a trial of issue.
The prosecution present their case as normal but, as stated above, the defence cannot perform their usual role. Their involvement is therefore limited. The jury are required to consider whether or not it is proven to the criminal standard that the accused “did the acts charged”.
In this case, the jury were so satisfied. Mr Butt was therefore found to have done the acts charged in all 21 counts.
The process then moves to consideration of the most appropriate way in which to deal with the accused.
This isn’t a sentencing hearing in the ordinary sense of the word because there isn’t a conviction. Therefore, the usual sentencing options are not available. In fact, the court’s options are limited to just three:
Note that the Supervision Order is different to the Supervision Order that is sometimes imposed under a Community Order.
We have a more detailed fact sheet on the disposals and their limitations.
In this case, the decision as to the appropriate disposal will be made later on 7 August 2015.
This case serves as a very good example of the procedure that will occur in the Janner case should Janner be found unfit to plead and subsequently found to have done the acts charged.
Is the headline that Mr Butt will “escape jail” correct – well, in one sense yes. He won’t be going to “jail”. However, it isn’t correct to say that he has escaped a prison sentence because as soon as he was found unfit to plead, a prison sentence was off the cards.
There are strong reasons why the system doesn’t imprison (or otherwise punish) those who are unfit to plead and have been found to have done the acts charged – these include the fact that they have not been convicted as they have not been able to present a defence. Think of it this way, would it be acceptable to take someone off the street, accuse them of an offence, but not allow them to defend themselves and then imprison them? Absolutely not. The two scenarios are analagous. It might be difficult to accept, particularly when the acts charged are so serious, but it’s an important safeguard.