We were asked to look at the case of Simon Lawes, a former soldier and Met police officer who had pleaded guilty to 12 offences of making indecent photographs of children, two of possessing indecent images and one of possessing extreme pornography.
The offence of making indecent images means downloading (as in making a copy of), as opposed to actually “making” the image (as in producing the original). The extreme pornography offence in this instance was in relation to bestiality but the offence can encompass images containing sexual violence.
Following a dawn raid at his home – acting on a tip-off from Lawes former partner – officers found 2,482 indecent images and films of children, including one that depicted an 18-month-old baby being raped. Most of the pictures were of girls around 10-years-old being abused, The Independent reported.
There were 348 moving images found on his computers – one of which had belonged to the City of London police. Of those moving images, 228 were at Category A, of the new guidelines. Category A is the most serious level. 101 were at Category B and 19 at Category C, the least serious.
There were 2,134 still images found. Of those, 912 were at Category A, 605 at B and 617 at C. There were also 212 extreme images involving human sexual activity with horses, dog and pigs.
Lawes had been a soldier, serving in Northern Ireland prior to joining the police. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and had been self-medicating with alcohol since his time in the army having – reportedly – suffered a “bad time” whilst on tour in Northern Ireland. It was said that Lawes was a highly functioning alcoholic.
The Independent reported:
Handing down his sentence Judge Michael Baker QC told the court he had thought hard about sending him immediately to prison but said he could suspend the sentence because of Lawes’ background.
“Quite clearly these are seriously disturbing images and in the course of making them the lives of a number of children will have been significantly affected.”
The judge imposed a suspended sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 2 years. Within that sentence, there was an 18-month supervision requirement, during which Lawes will have to maintain regular contact and meetings with his supervising officer. Additionally (and unsurprisingly) there was an alcohol treatment requirement added to the sentence in addition to a nine-week curfew, requiring Lawes to remain in his address between the hours of 7pm and 5am.
The way in which the new guidelines operate is still settling down (they were only ‘in force’ from 1 April 2014), however in relation to image offences it seems rather straightforward. There are 3 categories (formerly the courts used the COPINE scale which placed images into one of 5 categories) A, B and C. The guideline states:
In most cases the intrinsic character of the most serious of the offending images will initially determine the appropriate category. If, however, the most serious images are unrepresentative of the offender’s conduct a lower category may be appropriate.
That places Lawes (almost unarguably) into category A. Not only are those the most serious, but also, the “justice” of the case is done by categorising this as a Cat A case as most of the images are at that level.
The starting point is therefore 12 months custody. Add in the aggravating features such as the use of police property, the fact he was a serving police officer and the number of images – not an extremely high number but it is clear that this is not a case of experimentation which was quickly desisted.
Take account of the mitigation, including the PTSD, the alcoholism and his previous character (serving in the army and the police etc.) and the guilty plea, a sentence of 12 months does not seem inappropriate.
The judge can then consider whether it is appropriate to suspend the sentence – only sentences of 24 months or less can be suspended. In this case, (and I am making a few assumptions here) the judge is likely to have considered the (presumed) lack of evidence that Lawes is likely to progress to contact offences (therefore there is a lack of a risk to the public) and the need to treat his alcoholism and help him get his life back together. A 12-month sentence of immediate custody (out in less than 6 months) is unlikely to give Lawes the chance to begin any treatment for his alcoholism. The pragmatic course is to pass a suspended sentence (the period of suspension under which can be up to 2 years) which enables Lawes to undergo some treatment – after all the aim of sentencing is to rehabilitation and reduce the risk of reoffending, as well as punish. As to that last point, the curfew is really the ‘punitive’ element of the sentence, and so we can see that the judge in this case imposed a very sensible sentence, ticking many of the aims of sentencing, avoiding sending someone to custody and saving a few thousands pounds in the process.
For those reasons an appeal is highly unlikely.
Oh and, there is likely to have been a victim surcharge imposed.