Review unduly lenient sentencing for Category A images of child sexual abuse.

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We, the undersigned, are calling for the Sentencing Council to review the sentencing guidelines for the possession and making of Category A images of child sexual abuse. For the sentencing for Category A images to take place in a Crown Court rather than a Magistrates Court; for suspended sentences to be prohibited in these cases; and for courts, judges and legal representatives to be made aware of the impact of these crimes on victims through more appropriate training and other measures, for example the appointment of a 'guardian ad litem' or advocate to be a voice for the voiceless and represent the impact on victims of Cat A offences in sentencing proceedings. In 2017 less than one quarter of Cat A offenders were sent to prison.

The unduly lenient sentence given to paedophile Simon Thomas (previously Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion and ex-Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales) at Mold Magistrates Court on 31 October 2018, and the inappropriate, cynical and thoughtless comments made by District Judge Gwyn Jones and Thomas's legal team, have profoundly shocked the communities of Mid & West Wales. 

Simon Thomas pleaded guilty to the making of over 600 images and videos of child abuse. 150 of these images were classified as Category A, the most serious category - images involving penetrative sexual activity and/or images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism. For these offences Simon Thomas received a 26 week prison sentence which was suspended for two years. A deprivation order was made in respect of Thomas' electronic items. He was also ordered to pay costs of £85 and a surcharge of £115, and he will appear on the Sex Offenders Register for the next seven years.  The Mid and West Wales communities have rightly responded with shock and horror to the travesty of the sentence that he has received.

Simon Thomas could have been sentenced to between 26 weeks and 3 years in prison for the offences he committed. This, in our opinion, is not a sentence range that reflects the severity of these crimes. The judge in this case chose not to refer the sentencing to Crown Court, and to give Simon Thomas an even lighter sentence than the recommended sentencing guidelines. He suspended the 26-week prison term for 2 years and as a result Simon Thomas has walked free from the court.

The making or possession of child abuse images is never, as an NSPCC spokesperson has said,  a victimless crime. Each of those children, in the hundreds of the images that Simon Thomas viewed, is a victim of the most degrading, traumatising, physical and psychological exploitation, grooming and abuse to supply the demand of this appalling trade. Each time those images are viewed again, those crimes against those children are repeated. Surviving these abuses is made far more problematic with the knowledge that images of their abuse are still in existence online, are still being enjoyed by abusers, and that their abuser has walked free from a courtroom and has not been imprisoned for their crime. It is no wonder that victims may be reluctant to disclose abuse or pursue a prosecution against their abusers.

Whilst women are disproportionately hit with prison sentences and are locked up for non-payment of a TV licence or their council tax, the establishment work to protect themselves and their own. VIP child sex abuse cases such as this, whether directly or indirectly perpetrated, are frequently covered up and this can be seen in the lack of prosecutions that could have led to convictions of senior politicians, and other members of the establishment, in the Westminster child abuse cases.

We also are expressing our concern at the fitness of the judge, and the tactics of the defence, in emphasising the victimhood of the perpetrator of these offences rather than the real victims; defenceless and vulnerable children. The sentence and comments undermine all efforts to protect our children and vulnerable people here in Mid and West Wales, nationally and internationally. The leniency of the sentence also sends a message to paedophiles that they will not be sent to prison - their crimes are not that serious.

It must be noted that this is not the first time that Judge Gwyn Jones has given a Category A paedophile offender an unduly lenient sentence. In  December 2017, he sentenced Geraint ap Dewi Rowlands, a previous special constable, Army Cadets Leader and Town Councillor who pleaded guilty to possessing over 1500 indecent images of children (including acts of bestiality to some children as young as 6 months old), to a 52 week suspended sentence. We are therefore calling for Judge Gwyn Jones to be referred to the Judicial Complaints Investigations Office, as he is failing to protect vulnerable children from the actions of paedophiles through his lenient approach to sentencing these types of crimes.

Recent research has shown that there is a very strong link between the viewing of images and the likelihood of actual direct sexual abuse of children, with a long term interest held by the perpetrator. This means that many paedophiles who view indecent images images of children are likely to have engaged in actual sexual abuse themselves, commonly perpetrated on more than one child.  

Simon Thomas carried the abusive images with him, on his ipad and on his phone, as he went about his business representing the Mid and West Wales region in the Welsh Assembly: as he sat on the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee; as he worked as a trustee for his local community centre; and whilst he was supporting his constituents, at least one of whom requested his help in supporting a child sexual abuse victim. Thomas’s role as an MP and an AM elevated him to an extraordinary position of respect and trust both in the Mid and West Wales region and nationally.  The trust placed in him by those communities, organisations, and their service users, has also been abused.

We seek reassurance that our children are safe from paedophiles. Neither this sentence, nor the judge’s comments, will provide this reassurance. Nor will it encourage victims to come forward, to know that their experiences are believed and that the calamitous effect of the abuse will be given the consideration they need and deserve. It must be reiterated that viewing these images sustains the market in child sexual abuse and is strongly linked to actual sexual abuse, not only in order to produce these images but also usually perpetrated by the paedophile in addition to the act of voyeurism.

Crimes as serious as Simon Thomas’s and Geraint ap Dewi Rowland’s need to go to Crown Court for sentencing. Sentencing guidelines must be reviewed to reflect the effect on victims of these crimes, some of whom will have lives devastated by sexual abuse. It should not be possible for sentences for the making of Category A images to be suspended, and sentencing guidelines need to be amended to reflect the betrayal of trust experienced by victims and communities.

Cllr. Claudine A Young, Aberystwyth Town Council & Cllr. Dinah Mulholland, Lampeter Town Council.