On 9 February 2015, the BBC ran a story about Oliver Lown – a former vet and now proud owner of a conviction for a sexual offence involving animals. He was sentenced to 24 weeks’ imprisonment.
Struck off for previous similar offences
Lown qualified as a vet in 2013, having trained in Hungary. He was “struck off” the register last year following a conviction for possessing extreme pornography, understood to be of images of a similar nature in 2012. He received a conditional discharge for that offence.
It appears that Lown may well have not disclosed the conviction to the regulatory body when he was admitted as a vet, as the conviction occurred before his qualification – although we have no report to confirm that. Either way, he was removed from the register and can no longer practise as a vet, which is probably a good job.
Lown, 29, from Ipswich, pleaded guilty to having seven extreme images of animals (although news reports suggest he was sentenced for bestiality – it isn’t entirely clear). It is understood these were of horses and dogs. The images – all moving images – were found at his address during a police search at the end of January, following an allegation of assault made by his former partner. That was not continued with but unfortunately for Lown, the discovery of the images meant in addition to having lost his girlfriend and his job as a vet, he lost his freedom too.
This is usually the point at which we say “the starting point is the Sexual Offences guideline” – only for this offence, it isn’t, notwithstanding it is a sexual offence and the new definitive guideline was issued last year.
The new guideline (just like the old guideline) does not cover offences of extreme pornography. There has been much confusion in the past over the use of the indecent images of children guideline (both new and old); judges and practitioners have on occasion proceeded on the understanding that the indecent images guideline applied to offences of extreme pornography. That is incorrect and such an approach can result in inflated sentences, because the references to images containing sexual activity with animals in the sexual offences guideline are in the context of indecent images with children – obviously a far more serious offence.
In this case, Lown would have received credit for pleading guilty (although it may well have been less than a third as it appears he was “bang to rights”) and so the starting point would have been somewhere around 30 – 36 weeks.
It is likely that the court had an eye on what would have happened had Lown fell to be sentenced for bestiality. Again, the new guidelines dont cover bestiality but we are able to turn to the old guidelines, which did. The starting point for a first-time offender after a trial was a community order. Adding in the aggravating factor of recording the images and his previous convictions, one can see how the court arrived at a sentence of 24 weeks.
Additionally, Lown is subject to notification for a period of 7 years.
Without further details (nature of the sexual activity etc.) it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether the sentence was manifestly excessive, however this does appear to be a little on the high side.
It is understood that Lown will be appealing against his sentence. A sentence appeal from the Magistrates’ Court to the Crown Court is by way of re-hearing (starting afresh) so the sentence could be increased. It appears very unlikely that that will happen, however.