Anger over sen­tence for dis­graced AM

Carmarthen Journal - - Front Page - MARTIN SHIP­TON martin.ship­ton@me­di­

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”.

Pic­ture: Robert Parry Jones

For­mer Plaid Cymru AM Si­mon Thomas has pleaded guilty to three counts of mak­ing in­de­cent images of chil­dren.

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