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Scotland Tonight: Debate after sheriff frees child abuser

Rona Dougall was joined by Thomas Leonard Ross QC and Janine Rennie for the discussion.

In December, Christopher Daniel was found guilty of sexually assaulting a young girl over a two-year period.

She was six-years old when the abuse started, while Daniel was 15.

The now 18-year-old was given an 'absolute discharge' by Sheriff Gerard Sinclair, meaning he received no criminal conviction nor was he placed on the sex offenders register.

On Thursday, a statement issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland detailed the Sherrif's reasoning.

It read: "The Sheriff considered the offence to be the result of an entirely inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification."

The victim's mother spoke to STV News and gave her response.

She said: "I am absolutely gobsmacked by this. How can he possibly know this? It also seems to be at odds with the charge which was of sexual assault."

https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435128-mum-s-anger-as-sex-attacker-sentencing-explained/ | default

On Thursday night, Thomas Leoard Ross QC - a former president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, and Janine Rennie, chief executive of the In Care Survivor Service Scotland, gave their views on the Sheriff's reasoning on Scotland Tonight.

Here is some of that conversation, chaired by presenter Rona Dougall.

Mr Ross: I think he [Sheriff Gerard Sinclair] took the bravest option that was available to him and it's been justified. He's set out the reasons for it. Many people would have opted for a different sentence.

Ms Rennie: I'd say it's a risky and unsafe option. I think this leads to risk in the future for any kind of survivor. If this sets a precedent then it's going to be a risk going forward for perpetrators being able to go on to offend.

He [Christoper Daniel] is not going to be on the sex offenders register at all.

Mr Ross: One of the unexpected benefits of the fact that people take decades to report sexual abuse is that people are charged with sexual abuse when they're 45 in relation to offences they committed when they were 13 or 14 or 15.

That gives us evidence that people do things when they're 15 and then never re-offend throughout their adult lives.

Ms Rennie: He didn't just offend on a one-off and then not offend again, he committed those offences for two years and actually, in reality what we find is not what's being portrayed here. In terms of sex offenders they do go on to offend again, it's just that quite a lot of victims don't come forward.

They may have offended five or six or seven other times but the victims haven't had the strength to come forward and speak about it.

Debate: Mr Ross and Ms Rennie appeared on the show.
Debate: Mr Ross and Ms Rennie appeared on the show. STV

Rona: What about what Sheriff Gerard Sinclair said? He said he considered the offence to be the result of an inappropriate curiosity of an emotionally naive teenager rather than for the purpose of sexual gratification - what did you make of that?

Mr Ross: Well that's his assessment, he's a very, very experienced Sheriff. He's a very good man, he acted in good faith, he took an option which he must have known would expose him to criticism and that's why I describe it as a brave option, he's in the best position to make that judgement.

We cannot set criminal justice policy on the basis of phantom claims which people have never made. We can't do it.

Janine says that people go on to re-offend but people don't report the offence, how take those circumstances into account when they've never been tried in a court or tested by cross examination.

Rona: He was found guilty of this though?

Mr Ross: He was found guilty.

Ms Rennie: I'm sorry but I would say he's an inexperienced sheriff. Somebody that is experienced in the area they were working in would actually know the right sentence to give.

I think that's why everybody is appalled. Everyone who works in this area is appalled.

Sheriffs in this position should come and visit abuse services and chat to survivors.

Mr Ross: You can't please everybody. Every lawyer I've spoken to - we had a discussion about it the other day - ten lawyers came up with 12 different answers but every one of them could understand why he did what he did.

Rona Dougall: Chaired the debate.
Rona Dougall: Chaired the debate. STV

Rona: Susan Jack from Glasgow Women's Aid said that Mr Daniel's "affluent, middle-class background appeared to be a key factor in this case and perhaps other cases". Do you think there's anything in that, Thomas?

Mr Ross: I think there is something in the fact that the boy had managed to qualify for dental school. He had achieved a great-deal educationally and therefore, when you were considering putting him on the sexual offences register for example, he would have been deprived of that.

Rona: Janine, the sheriff had said this lad would go on to become a valuable contributor to society.

Janine: I would ask anybody, would they want their child to be going to that dentist, where a dentist has got complete control over that process? If he does go on to be a dentist, the potential risk is huge.

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