June 2006

Outrage over five week sentence for paedophile

The outcry over lenient sentences for paedophiles intensified today when yet another serial child abuser was given an astonishingly short jail term.

Richard Bruce, who admitted a string of attacks on two young girls, could be free in just five weeks despite a judge admitting there was a ‘serious risk’ he would reoffend.

Bruce, 35, was sentenced to 27 months in jail but will be considered for parole after serving only half his sentence. Because he has already served more than a year on remand he could be free next month.

The case piled further pressure on Home Secretary John Reid to overhaul sentencing guidelines, after serial paedophile Craig Sweeney was given a tariff of just five years on Monday for kidnapping and attacking a three-year-old girl.

The family of Sweeney’s victim said yesterday they have not told the girl he could soon be free because of the ‘terrible’ effect the news might have on her.

The sentence handed down to Richard Bruce was described as ‘appalling and pathetic’ by children’s campaigner Michelle Elliott, of the charity Kidscape.

She said: ‘While the politicians argue about sentencing and the judges claim their hands are tied, we have children who are not being protected from serial paedophiles.

‘It is up to the Government to sort this out with changes in the law which ensure that paedophiles are given appropriate sentences.

‘At the moment you are likely to be given a longer sentence for video piracy than for abusing a child. It is ludicrous.’

Bruce, of Tilney St Lawrence, Norfolk, was sentenced at King’s Lynn Crown Court last Friday but details of the case only emerged yesterday.

The court heard that unemployed Bruce, who is married and lived on incapacity benefit, sexually assaulted a four-year-old girl in May last year by kissing her genital area through her pyjamas.

He also indecently assaulted an older girl three times between 1995 and 1999, twice by fondling her breasts and once by putting his hand down her trousers. He told the girl she would get into trouble if she told anyone else what had happened.

The court was also told that Bruce had a previous conviction for indecent assaults on two girls and a boy aged under 14 in 1994, for which he was put on probation for 18 months. He had gone to the children’s beds and kissed them on the lips. All of the children he had attacked were children he knew.

Bruce was also convicted of harrassment in 2002, after he threatened to kill a woman in a series of phone calls and text messages, for which he was given a two-month curfew order.

Last week Judge Daniel Worsley sentenced Bruce to 27 months imprisonment for each of the indecent assaults, to run at the same time, with no extra penalty for the sexual assault.

He told him: ‘I do judge that there is a serious risk you will commit further sexual offences like these.

‘However, it is right to say these are far from the most serious sexual offences this court has to deal with.’

He added that he could not justify a life sentence as he could not be sure there was a risk of ‘serious’ psychological harm to Bruce’s victims.

Bruce, who is partially-sighted and has no children, lived in a council bungalow with his wife Linda, 51, whom he married in 1999.

When Bruce was arrested in June last year he denied the offences, but changed his plea to guilty at a later stage.

Unlike Craig Sweeney, who was given a mandatory ‘discount’ of one third off his sentence for his guilty plea, Bruce received less credit for his own guilty plea because he was sentenced under previous guidelines, as the offences for which he received a custodial sentence happened several years ago.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said the maximum sentence Bruce could have received was 10 years, but that the judge would have taken into account the severity of the crimes as well as the guilty plea to arrive at the final sentence. The judge was unavailable for comment.

Bruce only has to serve half his sentence before he is considered for parole, or thirteen and a half months. He has already served a year and one week on remand, meaning he has just five more weeks to serve.

He will then be put on an extended period of probation for three years and was placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years. He was barred from working with children for life.

The current row over lenient sentences for paedophiles blew up last week when the Court of Appeal, asked to review the case of a man who raped a 12-week-old baby, increased his six year sentence to just eight years.

At the weekend the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, demanded tougher punishment for sex offenders and published a list of more than 200 judges he considered had passed ‘unduly lenient’ sentences. Judge Worsley was not among them.

Then on Monday came the sentencing of Craig Sweeney, who snatched a three-year-old child from her home in Cardiff and assaulted her three times before being caught at the end of a high-speed car chase 100 miles away.

Sweeney was given a life sentence, but Judge John Griffith Williams QC had to knock a third off his tariff — the minimum time he must serve — as a ‘discount’ for his guilty plea under new sentencing guidelines introduced in 2004.

Today it emerged that another paedophile had gone on the run for 12 months after the same judge allowed him bail despite him facing trial for what Judge Griffith Williams described as a ‘depraved’ attack on a 10-year-old girl.

Trevor Masters, 53, held a leaving party in his local pub in Cardiff before heading for France via the Channel Tunnel as his trial neared its end. The judge sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment in his absence, and Masters was eventually tracked down to the South of France, where he spent a further year fighting his extradition before he was finally brought back to the UK to serve his sentence.

The family of Craig Sweeney’s victim revealed yesterday that the three-year-old is terrified that the ‘nasty man’ will come back to get her, and they have not told her he could be free in five years.

‘What he did will never go away,’ the girl’s mother said. ‘He ruined her life for ever.’

A family friend said: ‘We’re spitting blood over the sentence. Everyone is worried sick that the girl might have terrible nightmares if she knows he could be out in five years.

‘Her mum is keeping her away from the TV and radio so she doesn’t know that Sweeney might come out of prison while she’s still little.

‘If the judge could see this little girl’s face then he would have made sure Sweeney was put away for a hell of a lot longer. He should rot in prison.’

The family’s sentiments were echoed by criminologist Professor Allyson MacVean, of the John Grieve Centre at London Metropolitan University, who said serious sex offenders should be locked up for life.

She added that rehabilitation programmes for paedophiles were ‘very patchy’ because sex offenders are ‘very devious’ and will try to convince parole officers they have changed, only to reoffend when they are released.