February 2003

Second pervert teacher walks free

A Midland court has provoked a storm of criticism after a schoolteacher convicted of child pornography offences walked free – the second case of its kind in less than a month.

The latest decision by Wolverhampton Crown Court to impose a non-custodial sentence on a child porn offender was condemned by police, children’s agencies and a Midland MP who pledged to raise the issue with Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Primary schoolteacher Gareth Cowell (37), of Hawne Close, Halesowen, was sentenced to three years of community rehabilitation by Judge Mark Eades after Cowell admitted, at an earlier hearing, ten counts of making indecent images.

Last month, Judge John Wait at the same court sentenced primary school teacher Ronald Smith (50) of Baxter Road in Brierley Hill, to five years probation. Smith had admitted 12 specimen counts of making indecent images.

The two cases were not directly related but both men were arrested as a result of Operation Ore, the crackdown on child pornography based on an FBI list of Britons who paid to view a US-based Internet site.

Debra Shipley, the Labour MP for Stourbridge, said: “I believe strongly that prison is the right place for them. These extraordinarily lenient sentences are monstrous. “If the courts are going to persist in giving them non-custodial sentences than they should at least be made to pay for their rehabilitation.”

There was similar criticism by John Carr, Internet adviser to the National Children’s Home, who said: “It is shameful that the court did not impose a custodial sentence, especially as he was a teacher.”

A West Midlands Police source described the sentence as “disgusting”. He said: “The only way to protect children is to sentence these people to imprisonment.”

Cowell’s lawyer told the court he had gained no sexual gratifi-cation from the pictures but wanted to see how easy it was to access them.

He then printed hundreds of copies in order to create a dossier to assist an anti-child pornography group, the court was told.