Paedophile’s paradise: Perverts with up to 29 previous convictions for child abuse images are being spared prison
Child porn perverts, some with more than 20 previous convictions, are being spared prison because of soft-touch sentencing guidelines for judges.
A Mirror investigation today exposes how potentially dangerous paedophiles are repeatedly being freed back into the community.
One offender in 2010 was let off by a judge even though he had been hauled before the courts on 29 previous occasions for having indecent pictures of children.
The year before, another evaded a jail sentence for a child porn haul even though he had been caught 22 times before on the same charge.
And in 2008, a culprit walked free despite being found guilty on 27 previous occasions.
The worrying revelations are contained in Ministry of Justice figures.
The Sentencing Council – which sets the punishments judges can give criminals – has laid down rules stating that child porn offenders can get away with community sentences even if they are caught with “a large amount” of sickening photos and other material.
There are five categories of abuse for child porn images, with one the least serious.
Paedophiles can avoid jail if they are caught with hundreds of level one images and even “a small amount of level two” material, according to the guidelines.
To be spared prison, the pictures cannot have been shared with other paedophiles.
But even the maximum sentences are unlikely to be seen as acceptable by the public.
The “maximum penalty available for possessing indecent photographs” is five years, while “taking or making, distributing or showing, such photographs” is 10 years.
Yet paedophiles pleading guilty get an automatic 50% cut in jail sentences for anything over 12 months, under controversial laws brought in by Labour in 2003.
A Sentencing Council spokesman pointed out judges are given a list of potential “aggravating factors” which allow them to hand down tougher sentences than the guidelines would ordinarily suggest.
But alarmingly, a convicted paedophile’s previous offences are not included on that list – giving soft-touch judges a get-out-of-jail-free card to let perverts off time and time again.
However, judges should have no excuse for handing down weak sentences – because they have an escape clause allowing them to come down harder on offenders if they feel “it is in the interests of justice to do so”, the spokesman told the Daily Mirror.
In opposition, the Conservatives demanded “urgent reform” of the sentencing guidelines to stop paedophiles getting away with community punishments or short sentences – but have done nothing since coming to power.
Essex Tory MP Priti Patel reacted furiously to the Mirror’s investigation and called for an immediate inquiry into why judges were consistently failing to hand down appropriate sentences to dangerous child porn abusers.
She said: “This is an astonishing revelation which will alarm the public. A full explanation is required as to how the judge came to these decisions, which will unnecessarily put children at risk.
“I am sure the public would welcome a clear assurance that every possible safeguarding measure is in place so these individuals cannot re-offend and no child can possibly be at risk and come into contact with these dangerous individuals.”
Last year the Mirror revealed proposals by Ken Clarke would have led to even softer sentences for paedophiles and other sex attackers.
The Justice Secretary wanted to “bribe” offenders by giving them shorter sentences in return for early guilty pleas.
But figures seen by the Mirror showed this would have seen up to 93% of paedophiles given 50% reductions in their already lenient prison sentences.
Government statistics showed most paedophiles admit their guilt early already, meaning they would have got shorter sentences for nothing.
The controversial proposals were eventually dropped, following a public outcry. But dangerous paedophiles are still being given the benefit of the doubt by out-of-touch courts.
In 2009 – the latest year for which figures are available – more than 4,000 child abusers went on to commit more than 1,200 further sex crimes, including 330 against children, within a year of being released from their previous sentences.
Harry Fletcher, of the probation officers’ union Napo, has also hit out at the soft-justice system.
He pointed out it was preventing prison workers from being able to treat child porn addiction.
He said: “In Napo’s view it is inappropriate that either no treatment, or sentences too short for treatment, are handed out by the courts.”
Sex offender treatment programmes are available in 26 out of the 140 jails in England and Wales.
There are more than 7,500 sex offenders currently behind bars.
Previous figures have revealed around a quarter of sex offenders who prey on children are let off with just a caution.
Hundreds more perverts are handed community penalties or suspended sentences every year despite the seriousness of their crimes.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman revealed the Government would conduct a review of paedophile sentencing – but insisted judges were best placed to deal with the cases before them.
He said: “All sexual offences are abhorrent and tough penalties are available for the most serious, including sentences of up to 10 years for taking and distributing indecent images of children.
“Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judges and magistrates who have the full facts in front of them.”
He added: “The independent Sentencing Council will be starting a review of sentencing guidelines for sexual offences later this year.”
Sex offender Roy Stobbs was spared jail even though he was caught with almost 7,000 indecent images of children.
He had already been put on probation in the 80s for indecently assaulting a schoolboy.
But despite his sickening past, judge Jonathan Rose sentenced Hobbs, from Huddersfield, to a three-year community order at Bradford crown court in 2010.
He said he decided against giving the pervert time in jail because he would only spend a few weeks behind bars.
Ferry skipper Stephen Adey was let off with a suspended jail sentence for making indecent child images.
This was despite having already indecently assaulted a young girl. He had 37 images on his computer, featuring girls aged from two to 10.
A court was told that Adey, from Wellesbourne, Warks, had picked up a caution in 1996 for assaulting the youngster.
But judge Merfyn Hughes QC gave him an eight-month suspended sentence last year and put him on a sex offenders’ programme.
Paedophile Richard Holdaway avoided prison for downloading hundreds of child porn images in 2007 weeks after escaping jail for the same offence.
At his first trial, for downloading 1,500 images of children, judge Andrew Goymer warned him he’d face a “strong possibility” of jail if caught again.
Yet Holdaway, of Belvedere, Kent, was let off a second time – for downloading 388 images and 19 videos – by the same judge, who said imprisoning him would not “address the problem”.
Serial paedophile Roger Martin, who has a 30-year history of child sex offences, was spared jail in 2009 for assaulting an 11-year-old girl.
Martin was let off by a judge in Peterborough, Cambs, due to his age and ill-health.
He was taking Viagra at the time and the judge was powerless to stop him. He was ordered to attend a three-year treatment programme and banned from having contact with children.
Church-goer Clarke was banned from contacting children in 2008 after indecent images were found on his computer. But he violated the order by messaging a 12- year-old girl online last year.
Clarke, of Bradford, admitted breaching the order and making indecent images but was spared jail so he could have community rehabilitation.
The paedophile, who is deaf and cannot speak, was given a 51-week suspended sentence and a three-year community rehabilitation order.