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Sentences on child abusers 'too lenient'

Attorney General seeks re-trial as critics say judicial system shields rapists

Henry McDonald
Sunday June 29, 2003
The Observer

The Attorney General is to lodge an appeal over the cases of two paedophiles in Northern Ireland on the ground that their sentences were unduly lenient.
Former British soldier James Gilpin Thompson, who raped a handicapped girl in his care, was given nine years in jail, while Howard Reid, a cross-dressing paedophile, escaped jail with a suspended sentence earlier this year.

But both men are likely to face their victims in court again as Lord Goldsmith QC has agreed with the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland that their sentences were too lenient.

The decision to re-try the child abusers comes days after other victims of paedophiles in the province denounced a judge's ruling in Belfast High Court that a rapist should serve only seven years for abusing two young sisters.

Belfast's Rape Crisis Centre, which champions the cause of sex abuse victims, said the judiciary was 'unduly lenient' in almost every case of rape and paedophilia.

Welcoming the Attorney General's intervention in the Thompson and Reid cases, Eileen Calder from the Rape Crisis Centre said there was 'a hidden national scandal about the way the courts protect rapists and child abusers'.

Thompson was found guilty of raping and indecently assaulting one teenager and indecently assaulting the other. He abused them at his Greenbank Avenue home in Donaghadee between 1999 and 2001 when they were 16 and 17.

The court heard that Thompson, who once hoodwinked social services into allowing him to become a foster parent, preyed on the girls when his wife was not home, or in bed. The girls' families were outraged after it emerged that Thompson will serve only about three and a half years in prison.

Reid, who admitted to having more than 1,000 indecent images of children, was on the same health trust's registered foster carers list. Among the images Reid downloaded from the internet was one of a five-year-old girl being raped. Reid had something else in common with Thompson - the location of his crimes.

He was arrested after reports that he was flashing to children in Donaghadee. But Reid avoided jail and was given a suspended prison sentence earlier this year in Downpatrick Crown Court. One Police Service of Northern Ireland officer described Reid as 'a real and present danger to women and children'.

Sources at the DPP's office in Northern Ireland are jubilant over the Attorney General's move to appeal against the two sentences.

'This is a huge victory. These sentences were an affront to justice,' they said. The Attorney General is still studying the case papers and researching the history of several other similar prosecutions in the province.

Lord Goldsmith is likely to come under pressure to review the case of James Sloan, who was given seven years last Wednesday at Belfast Crown Court for raping and molesting two sisters in Co Antrim.

Sloan, from Oakview in Templepatrick, Co Antrim, changed his plea to guilty to the 35 charges of rape and indecent assault against the girls between June 1991 and July 2001. He began to rape and abuse one girl when she was 12 and started preying on the other when she was 11.

Eileen Calder said the Rape Crisis Centre knew of dozens of cases where rapists and paedophiles were given lenient sentences, with many not serving a day in prison.

'These cases are the tip of the iceberg. There is a hidden scandal in Northern Ireland of rapists and child abusers being treated leniently by the courts,' she said.

Calder added that the Northern Ireland public was unaware of the volume of cases where rapists and paedophiles walk free, because of gagging orders imposed on the media by judges.

'We have one case where a girl was willing to waive her right to anonymity and let the press report the trial of a man who abused her. She wanted it out in the open, but the judge still imposed a gagging order in Downpatrick Crown Court. You can only conclude that they are banning the media to protect the privacy of the abuser. If people knew the extent of the lenient sentences being handed down there would be an outcry. That's why there are so many gagging orders,' she said.

The Rape Crisis Centre said that, while the PSNI has a chief superintendent heading the Drugs Squad, the police service's care unit for rape and paedophile victims is led by an inspector.

There have been at least two dozen cases in the last three years in Northern Ireland courts where judges imposed a media ban on the trials of accused rapists and paedophiles.

As the man said:
"These cases are the tip of the iceberg".

And all that was left was hope \:\)