Six month suspended sentence for revenge porn

Six month suspended sentence for revenge porn

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On 1 October 2014, the Daily Mail ran a story about revenge porn.

The basic facts are that Thomas Samuel, aged 45, was in a relationship with a woman. The relationship came to an end after an argument. The woman posted “unsavoury” details about him on Facebook. Samuel sent the woman a number of messages warning her not to share such details. One read: ‘I see you like telling everyone our business. You won’t mind if I share a few photos with your friends.’ Another read: As we are sharing info with everyone, I will share your favourite photos.’

He then set up a spoof Facebook account and sent a number of the woman’s friends “friendship requests”. Thereafter he posted five intimate photographs, described in the Mail as “‘extremely explicit’ pictures of the woman performing a sex act and other photos of a similar nature.”

Facebook were made aware of the images and removed the profile within two hours. However, the images had been shared and been uploaded to pornographic websites, with one image being viewed 48,000 times.

Offence

He pleaded guilty to s.127 of the Communications Act 2003 – sending a message via a public communications network of an indecent character. The maximum sentence is 6 months imprisonment and can only be heard in the magistrates’ court.

Mitigation

In mitigation, it was said that the situation was ‘entirely regrettable’ and the full consequences ‘were not foreseen’. Further, that Samuel had uploaded the pictures ‘as a last resort’ to stop abuse he was getting as a result of damaging comments put online by his ex-partner. Finally, it was said that Samuel had performed community work and had lost his job when his employers found out about the case.

Sentence

He received a sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 2 years. That is interesting for two reasons.

First, the process by which a suspended sentence SHOULD (I say should because it is not always followed) be imposed is thus: 1) decide the length of the custodial term, 2) then decide whether it can be suspended. That means that the court determined that the maximum sentence was appropriate, notwithstanding that he pleaded guilty. Therefore the 6-month term is almost certainly manifestly excessive.

Second, the court considered there were circumstances which enabled the sentence to be suspended. The Mail report does not detail what these were (if they were identified by the court). In my view, I’m not sure there are such circumstances (based on the information provided) and although a suspended sentence is still a custodial sentence, in the eyes of much of the public, it is a “let off” which doesn’t really mark the seriousness of what is undoubtedly a potentially very damaging offence.

Appeal?

Because it would be an appeal against sentence from the Mags Court to the Crown Court, it is a re-hearing; that means the Crown Court has the power to impose any sentence that was available to the magistrates when they sentenced Samuels – including increasing the sentence.

So will there be an appeal? It is possible but probably unlikely. If I were Mr Samuels, I wouldn’t run the risk of a Crown Court judge finding that the 6-month term was excessive (and therefore reducing it) but finding that the sentence shouldn’t have been suspended.

1 COMMENT

  1. A most interesting analysis, and one I very largely share (especially the observations on the manner in which the bench arrived at a suspended sentence, given how this is supposed to be approached), but with one slight infelicity.

    Any appeal (which I agree appears unlikely in the circumstances as reported) would go to the Crown Court, and would be heard not by “a Crown Court judge” but rather – as you well know but fail to specify – by a bench consisting of a Crown Court judge and (at least two but theoretically as many as four) lay justices sitting as “judges of the Crown Court”. A little bird has told me that Crown Court judges not infrequently find themselves outvoted by their lay colleagues when it comes to sentence, ‘though maybe not in this instance.

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