The short answer is that it is because he was innocent of course. But without going behind that in any way, we wanted to have a bit more of a look at it.
There appears to have been a bit of misinformation in the papers and on social media as to what the charges were, and what the defence was, so we thought we’d have a look. For example, the normally sensible Gavin Shuker wrote this article for the New Statesmen suggesting that “there is a loophole in our legislation that allows men to purchase girls as young as thirteen each and every day, knowing full well they will virtually never be charged; and if charged, they’re unlikely to see court.”
He also said that the jury held “that he had a “reasonable belief” that she was over eighteen.”
Is that correct?
If you don’t know what we’re talking about with this case, then the BBC story is here.
Doug Richard is an American businessman, now resident in the UK. His case got in the papers due to his being a former member of the Dragons’ Den team.
This came about as a result of his using ‘Seeking Arrangements’ – a ‘sugar daddy’ website. After making contact with a girl, he exchanged messages and “went on to act out his fantasies when she travelled from her home in Norwich to London to meet him“.
Mr Richard put £240 into a PayPal account for the girl (who is anonymous). She later attended his flat in London with another 15 year old girl (also anonymous). The younger girl was, however, 13 which was what was to land him in Court.
In his flat they ‘engaged in a sex act’ as the media reports have it. After that, Mr Richard gave them £60 each and they left.
What happened at the trial?
It seems, though it is not clear, that the younger girl did not give evidence. The older one did though. There was a dispute as to exactly what happened, but Mr Richard accepted that some sexual activity took place.
He did say, however, that he thought the girl was 17 and “insisted he would never “knowingly” have sex with a child“.
By his acquittal, the jury must have accepted this.
What’s the law?
Obviously it was the case that all activity was factually consensual, if that is not the case then very different considerations apply.
The offences of sexual activity with a child, and causing a child to engage in sexual activity, are contrary to ss9 and 10 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The age of consent here is 16, but the law does provide a defence if the girl is aged between 13 and 16 if the man reasonably believes that the girl is aged 16 and over.
So far so good. There has been talk on twitter of statutory rape which, although it is an American concept, is similar to the position in English law. Here, the jury accepted what Mr Richards said in that he believed the girl to be 17, and no reason to believe otherwise. Hence his acquittal.
The third offence is slightly different. It is contrary to s47 Sexual Offences Act 2003. It reads as follows:
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally obtains for himself the sexual services of another person (B),
(b) before obtaining those services, he has made or promised payment for those services to B or a third person, or knows that another person has made or promised such a payment, and
(i) B is under 18, and A does not reasonably believe that B is 18 or over, or
(ii) B is under 13.
(2) In this section, “payment” means any financial advantage, including the discharge of an obligation to pay or the provision of goods or services (including sexual services) gratuitously or at a discount.
Here, the girl was under 18, but not under 13. However, Mr Richards said that he thought she was 17. This is fine for the other offences, but the age of consent for this offence is 18 – how was he acquitted?
It wasn’t mentioned in the press, but it would appear to be around the issue of whether there was ‘payment‘.
Looking above at the money that passed hands, the cash afterwards would not be ‘payment‘ as it was made after the sexual activity (this is before looking at the question of whether it was a gift or payment).
As to the money paid in to the PayPal account prior to the activity, Mr Richard said that it was for the girl’s travel. It would appear that this give rise to an interesting question as to the definition in s47(2).
We don’t know how the Judge resolved this, it would presumably would have been a question for the jury. But in any event the money has to be payment for the sexual services. Travel to the location would not, on the face if it, be covered by this.
This would appear to be the reason why, given that he believed the girl to be 17, he was still not guilty of the offence charged.
Is there a problem with the law?
Not really. Leaving aside that the issue does not appear to have been Mr Richard’s belief that the girl was 18, the law certainly does not allow “men to purchase girls as young as thirteen each and every day, knowing full well they will virtually never be charged; and if charged, they’re unlikely to see court” (as this case itself shows).
Mr Shuker goes on to say that it is “illegal to pay for sex with someone under the age of eighteen. But those bought between the ages of thirteen and seventeen inhabit a special kind of legal limbo; protected in statute but not by the state – because the defence of reasonable belief exists.