Anger over sentence for disgraced AM
THE 26-week suspended prison sentence given to former Plaid Cymru politician Simon Thomas for possessing the most extreme category of child abuse images was the lowest possible penalty he could have been given under sentencing guidelines, according to legal experts.
Thomas, a former MP for Ceredigion, resigned as a regional AM for Mid and West Wales in July after being arrested by DyfedPowys Police, who had found 539 indecent images and 77 indecent videos involving sex abuse of children aged from six to 13.
Of those, 94 of the photos and 56 of the videos were classed as Category A material, showing the worst kind of sexual abuse.
Thomas’ internet search history showed links to a Russian site known for sharing child sex images.
Thomas’s lawyer told the court “lonely hours” of public service spent away from home and the defendant’s “deep-rooted problems” led him into a “trap”.
Justin Espie, prosecuting, told the court a police search warrant was exe- cuted at 6am on July 23 and Thomas’ iPad, iPhone, a Dell laptop, computer hard-drive and USB sticks were seized.
No details were given in court as to how or why police had reason to execute the warrant on Thomas’s home.
The defendant gave officers his passwords for the devices and admitted the offences to police.
Thomas, a former Westminster MP and father of two adult children, admitted three counts of possession of indecent images of children at an earlier hearing.
He was given a 26-week jail sentence, suspended for 24 months, must complete a rehabilitation course involving counselling with probation and is subject to a sexual harm prevention order for seven years.
Passing sentence, the judge told Thomas: “You have lost your good character, you have caused a significant amount of pain and trauma to your family, and, to put it bluntly, a significant fall from grace.”
In a letter to the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC, former Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, a regional AM for South Wales Central, said there had been “outrage and shock” across Wales at the leniency of the sentence.
Mr Davies states in his letter: “Issuing the sentence, District Judge Gwyn Jones claimed Mr Thomas’ work had left him ‘lonely’ with time spent away from his family, and he had got into a ‘trap from which it was very difficult to escape’.
“In my opinion, these comments should in no way be used as a defence for this dreadful set of crimes.
“Even more astounding was the apparent weight the judge appeared to apply to Mr Thomas holding public office, and therefore experiencing a ‘significant fall from grace’.”
Mr Davies stated that the “unduly lenient sentence has sparked outrage and disbelief across Wales and I write to enquire what mechanisms or avenues are available to review the decision. It is my understanding that your power could be limited given the sentence was issued at a magistrates court. However it is my understanding this was done by a District Judge.”
Thomas was charged under Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 with “making” indecent images of children. “Making” in the context of the Act does not mean producing the material, but downloading it to a personal computer or other electronic device.
Offences under this section of the Act can be tried either at a magistrates’ court or at a Crown Court.
Sentencing guidelines say that for possessing indecent material of the kind “made” by Thomas, the starting point should be one year in custody – a sentence not available at a magistrates’ court.
Thomas pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, so could expect his sentence to be reduced by at least a third.
The next step is to consider whether a prison sentence is necessary in all the circumstances of the case. The guide states: “Even if a case is serious enough for a prison sentence, a prison sentence may not be necessary, perhaps because of certain mitigating features or because the offender has shown a commitment and readiness to undergo rehabilitation and therapy” – as in the case of Thomas.
Finally, a sentence can be suspended if, for example, the prospects of effective rehabilitation in the community are considered “real and genuine”.
Each case, says the guide, “very much turns on its own facts”.
Former Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas has pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children.