August 2009

No jail for Crewkerne sex offenders

Two sex offenders who walked free from court after admitting a sexual assault on a teenage boy have been attacked by vigilantes in a Somerset town, a court has been told.

Since Bryan Harwood, 70, and Rodney Hutchings, 61, first appeared in court they have endured stone throwing, vandalism and are now frightened to leave the home they share in Crewkerne.

Their double glazing has been broken with what appeared to be an air-gun pellet and Hutchings has had to leave three part-time jobs he held, solicitors for the pair told Taunton Crown Court.

They admitted at an earlier hearing indecently assaulting a male under 16. Hutchings also admitted making an indecent image.

On Friday, Judge Stephen O’Malley said it was clear they had learned their lesson. He gave both six-month prison terms, suspended for two years. They will not serve any time inside if they stay out of trouble.

Their victim, a 14-year-old boy at the time of the offences in April and June 1998, started to “go off the rails” about a year earlier, when he started to run away from home and had a difficult relationship with his stepfather, said Janice Eagles, prosecuting.

She said he started getting into trouble and using drugs and was a vulnerable young man when he met Hutchings in a public lavatory where he went to hide when he was running away.

Hutchings appeared to be a respectable man and the boy went back to his home. Both defendants believed he was over 16 because he “demonstrated a  knowledge of sexual activity”, but he said he was sexually inexperienced and was scared and uncomfortable, she said.

James Newton-Price, defending, said the defendants had been partners for about 45 years and lived quietly and worked hard without any history of offending.

They thought the boy was mature and sexually experienced because he talked of sexual contact with other males when he was 12, and they believed he was 16 “at least”. They believed they were doing nothing unlawful at the time.

“There were a number of visits to their house and sexual contact on two occasions. On one occasion a video was taken, a short clip. The offences were in 1998 and both men thought that was the end of it. The complainant called in one morning in about 2005 to make a social call,” he added.

The defendants were horrified to be arrested and had suffered significant punishments from public exposure and court appearances. Hutchings thought it would not be possible for him to work again. He had no income and they were both living off Harwood’s pension.

Both men had lost all confidence about leaving their home but had been given a lot of support from people who knew them who described them as decent and friendly people about whom there had never been any concerns. The proceedings had had a devastating effect on their lives but there was no suggestion they were in any way predatory, Mr Newton Price said.

Judge O’Malley said he was sentencing them on the basis that they believed the victim was  16 or over. Harwood had committed two offences of indecent touching and Hutchings one of indecent touching and of taking indecent photographs. The victim was a vulnerable youth and suffered some psychological harm which affected his behaviour in later years.

The judge said he had received a quantity of favourable references from friends and neighbours of the defendants. He said he was not making a Sexual Offenders Prevention Order because they were otherwise of good character and and “I don’t consider it likely you will commit such offences again”. They were ordered to pay £370 costs and to sign the Sex Offenders Register for seven years.