June 2006

Judge’s regret as paedophile walks free

A judge has spoken of his regret after a paedophile who took lewd pictures of a teenage boy in his school uniform walked free from court.

Keith Elliot, 49, groomed the 15-year-old boy, from Blackpool, Lancashire, over the internet before “engaging in sexually activity” in the boy’s bedroom.

Elliot then took perverted pictures of the boy, downloaded them on to his computer and sent the images to a friend via email.

Judge Michael Byrne said the offences warranted Elliot being jailed but under current laws he would only serve half of the maximum 12 months sentence – not long enough to get help while behind bars.

Elliot, of Ashburton Road, North Shore, was instead given a three-year community order after he pleaded guilty to eight charges of possessing and distributing indecent images.

Judge Byrne told Preston Crown Court: “I think these offences do pass the custody threshold but, having regard to all the factors for which you are due credit, we are faced with a not unfamiliar sentencing problem.

“The maximum sentence I can pass is one of 12 months but, according to the current legislation, you would only serve half of that at most.

“The reality, I regret to say, is that you would then be ineligible for any of the help mechanisms available in prison and would come out presenting exactly the same risk, if not more, to the public.” Furious MPs today called for tougher sentences after Elliot managed to escape being sent to prison by a “hair’s breadth”.

Ben Wallace, MP for Lancaster and Wyre, said: “We simply do not punish people enough in this country. A paedophile should be given a long sentence and that should include punishment and rehabilitation. The judge’s hands are tied by criminal law that protects the criminal and not the victim.”

Michael Jack, Fylde MP, said: “Recent cases of child paedophilia has left the public wondering whether the law is tough enough to deal with these dreadful crimes.

“I hope the Government will take on board the growing public disquiet and order a thorough review.”

And Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, said: “The problem we have is that people do not serve their full sentences.

“It is not a question of new legislation but enforcing the existing law.”

The court heard how Elliot, a property developer, met the boy through an internet chatroom, telling his future victim he was only 29.

Police raided Elliot’s home last August and seized his computer. They found 32 indecent images, including some of Elliot with a young-looking boy. The boy was traced and interviewed and said he had met Elliot through a chatroom.

They met in person at the boy’s home while his parents were out and “engaged in sexually activity in his bedroom”, the court heard.

Elliot took perverted pictures of the boy in his school uniform and later emailed one to a friend. Richard Haworth, defending, said his client appeared in court “ashamed and embarrassed” and “wants a chance to put things right”.

Elliot will have to report to the judge every three months and has been warned he will go straight to prison if the order is breached. He was also banned indefinitely from working with children, given a Sexual Offences Prevention Order which bans him from owning a computer, and made to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.

A community sentence is designed for those who are not thought to pose a “great threat” to the public, who show remorse for their crime and to offer a better chance of their rehabilitation, according to the Home Office.