Court of Appeal consider suspended sentence for teaching assistant who had sex...

Court of Appeal consider suspended sentence for teaching assistant who had sex with pupil 80 times unduly lenient

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(c) Manchester Evening News

On 17 November 2015, the Daily Mail – predictably – covered the story of (now former) teaching assistant Caroline Berriman, aged 30, who had a relationship with a pupil.

What happened?

Berriman was a teacher at Abraham Moss Community School. The victim, a 15-year-old boy (who receives automatic lifetime anonymity) was a pupil at the school and was “tutored” by Berriman in English and Maths. Having contacted the victim via Facebook, the pair began to send each other text messages. The relationship then progressed to the pair meeting up, going for drives and watching TV together. The victim stated that Berriman’s child began to refer to him as “dad”, such was the extent of their relationship and the time they spent together. The victim lived with Berriman for a short period but after the relationship deteriorated he called ChildLine stating that he was considering taking his own life.

Over a period of some three months, the couple had sexual intercourse on 80 occasions and Berriman told the victim that she had fallen pregnant as a result and had subsequently undergone a termination.

Berriman pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual activity with a child (under s.9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) and in September 2015 fell to be sentenced.

Sentence

Berriman was sentenced to a 2-year suspended sentence order comprising 250 hours unpaid work. Additionally, the court imposed a restraining order prohibiting Berriman from contacting the victim.

Attorney General’s Reference

The Solicitor General referred the sentence under the unduly lenient sentence scheme. On 17 November 2015, the case was heard at the Court of Appeal, with Lord Justice Treacy (chairman of the Sentencing Council) leading the court.

The court quashed the suspended sentence, stating that the judge had paid too much attention to the mitigation and considered that due to the gravity of the offending, an immediate custodial sentence was required. They imposed a 2-year immediate custodial sentence.

Comment

Applying the sentencing guidelines, this appears to be a Category 1 A case, by virtue of the fact that there was penetration (on multiple occasions) and an abuse of trust. That provides a starting point of five years.

With aggravating features including grooming behaviour (in contacting the child via Facebook and later, via text messages) and the length of time over which the conduct occurred, not to mention that a pregnancy resulted from the relationship, the starting point of 5 years would be legitimately increased.

Taking that to say, 6 years, it falls to consider the mitigation. The court referenced Berriman’s “family situation”, which we assume refers to the fact she is the carer of a child as meriting a reduction in sentence. With a full credit reduction for the guilty plea, the sentence of 6 years would be reduced to some thing in the region of 4 years. Less the fact that she is being sentenced for a second time (often called “double jeopardy”) and the fact she will have already completed some of her unpaid work under the suspended sentence, a sentence of 2 years seems within the permissible range.

Interestingly, Berriman was not charged with the abuse of trust offence regarding sexual activity with a child. The Act defines a “position of trust” as including “if A looks after persons under 18 who are receiving education at an educational institution and B is receiving, and A is not receiving, education at that institution.” and so it appears that she falls within that section. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment (compared with 14 years for the s.9 offence). A Category 1A offence for the  abuse of trust offence has a starting point of just 18 months’ custody.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Inevitable, wasn’t it?

    I am not keen on “being a carer” being treated as mitigation but I know others will differ.

    Teachers must, must, must keep their hands off their pupils and that applies to teaching assistants too; and it applies regardless of gender.

    At the risk of seeming flippant I cannot resist quoting an old friend, a retired head-teacher, who says that he never had a sexual thought about his female pupils, not even the effectively adult girls approaching A-Levels . . . but their mothers, that was another matter!

  2. Quite possibly; my father was a teacher and taught at least one father-and-son.

    I don’t see that as a bad thing; I see it as teachers giving long and loyal service and a second generation able and happy to live in the area where they grew up.

  3. Sorry, LibEqSor – You were commenting on the teen-mother phenomenon – and yes, I agree that that is a wretched problem. Teaching parent and child twenty-odd years apart which is what my father did at least once is not the same thing.

    Excuse my missing the point!

  4. She wasn’t charged with ‘abuse of trust’ offences because the victim was 15 years old. Those offences relate to 16-17 year old victims who are above the age of consent but still subject to abuse of trust by those in positions of power. Check the SOA 2003.

  5. I remember being 15 and my hormones being a driving force in my life. This “child” was more than happy to participate it seems and only cried foul when it was over. Is there double standards here on this site ? Only a few weeks ago there was case of an 11 yr old boy and his babysitter of 20 and it seemed most people agreed that he was a willing participant and that a lenient sentence was in order. Cleary having sex 80 times this 15 yr old was forced into it……err……not.

  6. A 15 year old IS still a child and everyone knows that the age of consent is 16. A 15 year old may, of course, have sexual urges but I don’t understand where the ‘double standards’ here are? Surely any 30 year old having sex with a 15 year old could be considered a paedophile? Don’t paedophiles justify their behaviour by saying that their victims ‘enjoy’ it? If the victim had been female and the perpetrator male, I would think there would be considerable outrage that the sentence was so lenient.

    • The ‘double standards’ refers to a case on here where an 11yr old boy had sex with his 20 yr old female babysitter. The female was said to be very immature and the boy (according to his fathers comment) “sex mad”. Based on legal comments, the general conclusion was that the lenient sentence was OK. I posed the question in relation to the length of sentence this woman has got where the boy was 15, in contrast to the sentence the babysitter got where the boy was 11.

      Are you L-E-S in disguise ?

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