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Tougher sentencing for people convicted of grooming offences

View profile for Duncan Phillips
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The NSPCC reported last year that there had been a record high number of grooming allegations recorded by police. There is no specific offence of “grooming” as such, but the illegal activity is subject to a number of sections of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 such as s.15A Sexual Communications with a Child and S.10 Causing or Inciting a Child to engage in sexual activity. 

These offences involve an offender communicating with a child and developing a rapport with the child to get them to engage in illegal sexual activity. There does not need to be a child victim in relation to these offences. The complainant can be an undercover police officer or a member of a vigilante group posing as a child.

This had led to argument before the courts that the offender in a case where the complainant was a vigilante should not be sentenced as harshly as where there was a real victim who has been harmed by the grooming. However, the courts have concluded that a relevant factor in such cases should be the harm “intended”, irrespective of the fact that there was no real child that could be shown to have been harmed. Clarification as to how the cases should be sentenced can be found in revised sentencing guidelines.

Announcing the publication of revised guidelines Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean stated:

“Judges and magistrates will impose sentences that reflect the intended harm to the child, even where that activity does not ultimately take place, to protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm,"

“The rules will cover the sentencing of all abusers caught via stings, usually operating online - including those run by police forces around the world and traps set by informal groups of people often dubbed "paedophile hunters".

These guidelines reinforce the view that such allegations will be treated extremely seriously by the courts. At Stephensons we appreciate that it can be a difficult time for anyone who has been accused of grooming allegations. The solicitors in our criminal defence and appeals department have successfully represented a number of people facing the same allegations both at the police station and at court. The team have been awarded tier one ranking, the highest, for their criminal defence in the Legal 500 for the seventh consecutive year.

When facing such allegations it is important that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity from a firm who specialise in this area of law. If you do require assistance please do not hesitate to contact a member of the department on 0161 696 6188 or complete an online enquiry form. 

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