Vicar pleads guilty to 'publishing' obscene material

Vicar pleads guilty to 'publishing' obscene material

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Photo from the BBC
Photo from the BBC

Introduction

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

 

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Cases of this nature are always very worrying from a justice point of view. I have come across cases where, from the news reports, it was obvious that the clergyman concerned was pleading guilty out of a sense of guilt, not because he had done anything illegal.

    Mounting a defence is very risky, it could make the difference regarding prison, so the pressure to plead guilty is immense.

    I doubt if the actual words and/or pictures will be made public so it is effectively justice in secret with all the dangers that that brings.

    The offence lies at some poorly defined place on a continuum from innocuous to extreme obscenity. Slightly below that threshold, a threshold depending a lot on extraneous factors (including police, CPS, judge), and there is no crime committed. Slightly above it and there is a real risk of a prison sentence. By no stretch of the imagination can that be considered “proportionate” or just.

    A further problem lies in the reluctance of courts to consider the issue of harm. Were the young people harmed? Was there a risk of harm? Was there expert evidence to support the contention that there was? All too often the courts refuse to consider that sort of evidence despite that being the only way to distinguish the guilt of the accused from the prejudices of the accusers.

    So has an offence been committed? It is impossible to tell. Was justice served? It is impossible to tell. Were children protected from harm? It is impossible to tell. Did a perhaps foolish but innocent man have his life destroyed? It is impossible to tell. That is not justice and it is most definitely not justice being seen to be done.

  2. “Details are a bit vague.”

    You can say that again. It is impossible to assess the gravity of this fellow’s offence.

    “What were the images?”

    Were there any “images” involved at all?

    It is hard to imagine that James Ogley wrote anything in an internet chat room that was more likely to deprave and corrupt a modern adolescent than the jury decided that Fanny Hill was likely to deprave or corrupt them (i.e. not at all), when they acquitted its publisher of the same offence in 1963. I would imagine that James pleaded guilty merely to shorten the entire embarrassing process, and because he had a bad conscience about what he had done, whatever it was.

    I imagine he feels bad today.

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