Well, my holiday turned out to be rather a long one, with the result that my blog has become rather neglected. However, I was reading a story recently that disturbed me, and I thought that I ought to raise my disquiet.
It concerns the case of a 22 year old man who was jailed for a total of 14 months for the crime of . . . twice in the space of two days being in the same room as a young girl.
My eyes widened. It seemed like an odd thing to be sent to jail for, even in 21st century Britain. Apparently the man had breached the terms of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), which was made following his conviction for a sexual offence in November 2005 - when he would have been about 17 years old. The SOPO banned him from remaining or residing in any home which was also occupied by young girls. He was also forbidden from approaching, speaking to or communicating with girls aged under 16.
However, he recently became friendly with a local teenage boy who had two young school-age sisters. This friendship caused concern to his supervising team and at a meeting it was decided to disclose his background to the girls' parents to ensure he was kept away from them."
And so a social worker and police inspector called at the home to see the mother. They were invited into the property and on entering the kitchen found the accused sitting there along with a number of teenagers, one of them being an underage girl. It turned out that two days earlier he had been present in the house in the company of the other sister. No one has ever suggested that anything sexual occurred, simply that the order was breached.
But it gets worse. In court, the defence provided further details on the case - which were not challenged by the prosecution. On the first occasion, the 22 year old went to visit his friend after learning that he was alone in his mother's house. While he was there, one of his friend's sisters got off the school bus and went into the kitchen where the two men were sitting. There was a fleeting conversation before the girl went into her bedroom and that was the extent of the contact.
The second meeting was even innocuous. The 22 year old again arrived at the house in question along with his friend, but refused to go inside because he knew one of the girls was present. He eventually went inside on the insistence of his friend's mother, because it was raining. She then was going to supply food. While the man was in the house, the police called. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, there is no question that the 22 year old man was warned. He knew about his SOPO, and he knew about the consequences of breaching it. But 14 months in jail for sitting in a group of teenagers, one of whom was a girl under 16? It seems somewhat disproportionate to me. And it seems to me that the terms of the SOPO were extreme - especially as it seems that the man was probably 17 when the first offence was carried out. In fact, at the recent court case, the man’s defence stated that a psychologist's report on her client deemed him to be at a low risk of re-offending sexually but at a high risk of breaching the SOPO.
I don’t even know the full facts of this case. I do not know the anything about the man, or about the original offence he was convicted of. I have no doubt that what he did was wrong, and was very serious. (I may be wrong, but I would assume that since he was not in prison when breaches of the SOPO took place earlier this year, that whatever he did was consensual.) OK, it could be argued that he was lucky that in 2005 he was given a SOPO instead of a long jail sentence. But it still seems to me that this SOPO was ridiculously wide ranging. Sexual crimes against young girls are serious. But has society’s horror at such crimes led our politicians to take measures that are completely disproportionate?
SOPOs, by the way, were introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, section 104. Why is it that the first decade of the 21st century seems to excel all others for dubious legislation?