Paedophiles caught in sting operations ‘should receive higher sentences’

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Under plans put forward by the Sentencing Council, which oversees criminal sentences in the two countries, judges and magistrates would take into account the defendant’s intended sexual harm of a child, regardless of whether a victim existed or sexual activity took place.

In recent years many prosecutions have stemmed from adults posing as children online to snare offenders.

Miss O’Connor, who has caught 19 offenders in Jersey while using fake child accounts on dating sites, said she hoped Jersey authorities would also review sentences – but that the jail terms should not match those handed down in cases of actual abuse.

‘I agree that paedophiles who get caught in stings should receive much higher sentences as they don’t know that the child is fake,’ she said. ‘The intent is clearly there. It’s only when they get caught that they start making excuses and telling the police that they were never going to do anything. But right from the outset, they had never known that the child wasn’t real.’

She added: ‘I think the sentences should be increased to reflect intent, but should not be as high as if the individual had actually abused a child. Abuse will affect someone mentally for the rest of their life, and so it would not be right for someone to receive the same sentence as someone who had actually committed abuse.’

Miss O’Connor said that the maximum sentence handed down to someone she had caught was two-and-a-half years, but he had also abused a real child.

The rest had either received a prison sentence of about ten months or community service.

The Sentencing Council has now launched a consultation, which will end in August.

Lord Justice Fulford, Sentencing Council member, said: ‘The changes we are proposing will make sure the courts give the proper weight to the harm intended by those who commit offences against children.

‘When an offender intends sexual activity with a child, that must be reflected in the sentence imposed, even where that activity does not ultimately take place.

‘We are asking judges, magistrates and other interested parties for their views on the proposed guidelines to help us protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm or inciting sexual activity with them.’

Dan Vajzovic, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for online child sexual exploitation, said he welcomed the review, which ‘recognises the dreadful harm intended by sexual predators’.

He added: ‘Sex offenders are a very real threat to children, and their offending, whether online or in person, has the potential to cause serious and long-lasting damage to victims.’

A spokesman for the Law Officers’ Department said that ‘contact offences are generally considered more serious than non-contact offences’ but there were ‘not prescribed starting points [for sentences] like those in the UK, so a direct comparison with the UK sentencing regime is not possible’.

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