On 18th August 2014, the (presumably soon to be ex-) Reverend James Ogley pleaded guilty to seven counts of publishing an obscene material.
Details are a bit vague. We know that these related to “having obscene conversations with children as young as 12 on an internet chat blog“. It seems that there were six occasions in June 2012 and one in November 2012.
What’s the offence?
Publishing an obscene article is an offence under s2 Obscene Publications Act 1959.
Whilst ‘publishing’ has connotations of a formal process, in fact someone publishes an article if he “distributes, circulates, sells, lets on hire, gives, or lends it, or who offers it for sale or for letting on hire; or, in the case of an article containing or embodying matter to be looked at or a record, shows, plays or projects it, or, where the matter is data stored electronically, transmits that data“. So that covers what was presumably the obscene conversations.
An article is obscene if, where there are more than one of them “the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons“. What were the images? We don’t know, other than that part set out above.
What sort of sentence will he get?
This is not an offence that is covered by the Sexual Offences Guidelines. It is an either way offence (maximum sentence of 5 years) and is so rare that it is not covered by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines. That means we’re pretty much in the dark as to what the proper sentence should be.
Given the way it is charged, it is not as serious as offences of grooming or incitement, which means that whatever happened, it is not the case that this was the prelude to a contact offence. For that reason, the sentence would be a lot less than might otherwise be expected.
Rev Ogley will return for sentence next month. Given the nature of the offences, whilst they are clearly serious and the custody threshold is probably passed. These are worrying offences obviously, even if they went no further than online conversations.
But, given that it was not a grooming offence, the catastrophic effect it will have on him (he will lose his job and will almost certainly never be able to work as a vicar again), and the protections that will be in place (not just the Sexual Offences Register, but also the fact that he is now known to potentially pose a risk to children and others) it is case where an immediate custody may not be needed.