Friday, 31 August 2012

Sex Offending

I became aware of this case at Carlisle Crown Court some time ago and have just noticed that the guy has been convicted, but sentencing has been adjourned till today for a probation report. Nothing particularly unusual in that I hear you say, except what it's reported Judge Peter Hughes told the defendant. According to the local rag the News and Star:-

Judge Peter Hughes QC described it as "a very worrying case" but said that Wotherspoon would not be going to prison. He said that when he first heard details of what Wothspoon had done he had considered that a conditional discharge would be appropriate if he were convicted. But he said he had become "more concerned" the more he heard Wotherspoon giving evidence. "I find it remarkable that a man of his age should have behaved in that way on a night bus from Edinburgh to London", he said. "I have become increasingly concerned by the nature of the offence and how he came to be in this situation." Because of that, the judge said, he needed Wotherspoon to discuss his background and his reaction to the guilty verdict before passing sentence. 

Interestingly, this element of the judges remarks is missing from the piece in the Daily Mail. The defendant could be said to have effectively 'cooked his goose' by giving evidence and even the judge could detect all the worrying signs of someone who's possibly been getting away with similar behaviour for some time. In such cases there is always the worrying possibility of escalation and I absolutely commend the judge for adjourning for a proper full probation report, rather than the temptation of a quick 'standown' FDR on the day.

During the course of my career, sex offending of all types has steadily been treated rather more seriously than when I started and all of us involved in such cases have become used to the degree of deviousness often intrinsic to the offences. Not only is this case a good example of distorted thinking on the part of the perpetrator, but one has to seriously question why such a high-powered lawyer is on a night bus anyway? 

In my experience sex offenders often go to considerable lengths to try and convince you, and possibly themselves, that either their behaviour was innocent, accidental, or a one off. I have to tell you that it's invariably none of these as this other recent case amply demonstrates. This case also highlights how technological advancements invariably create new opportunities  for sex offending. It is a sad fact of life that camera technology has made it much easier to record images, for example children playing in city centre water features, and for this reason such sites invariably have to be monitored by police cctv cameras for suspicious spectator behaviour.

In my experience it takes a great deal of effort and skill to get someone to face up to such behaviour, accept the effect it has on victims and decide or agree to desist. In my view the only hope of effecting sustainable change in such cases is a Sex Offender Treatment Programme as part of a supervision order, but it really can be a long haul to alter entrenched deviant and distorted thinking. 

PS According to the News and Star, Wotherspoon received the maximum three year Community Order with supervision and SOTP. He will be required to abide by the terms of Sex Offender Registration for 5 years. Costs were set at £2,500 with £1,000 compensation going to the victim. Apparently his barrister had described him as ' an unconventional character' but the judge said he was a 'disgrace.' It's stated that he has already resigned from his post, prior to the Law Society taking a view no doubt. One final point. I notice Wotherspoon chose to sit next to the woman, despite there being vacant seats elsewhere on the bus, thus breaking what I think is a pretty well-established social norm of public transport usage.        



  1. Hopefully you would agree strongly that the sentence was appropriate and finely judged...

    1. Yes I think I do, but most of all it underlines to me the vital role full probation reports should play in our Criminal Justice System.

  2. "one has to seriously question why such a high-powered lawyer is on a night bus anyway?"

    So we should have a two tier system of transport where affluent professionals should not be on night busses. I assume that anyone on minimum wage or benefits will therefore be excluded from air travel, or taxis... Does his employment or the type of transport actually make the offence any more serious?

    "I notice Wotherspoon chose to sit next to the woman, despite there being vacant seats elsewhere on the bus, thus breaking what I think is a pretty well-established social norm of public transport usage. "

    Your choice of language is odd. Deviating from social norms on public transport is hardly an aggravating factor; if you travelled on public transport regularly you would find that whilst most people choose to sit alone when travelling alone not all do. I'm fairly sure not all are sex offenders. The underlying point may be valid, he selected this seat from perhaps 20 or 30 which were available and it was therefore not serendipity that he found himself there.

    Perhaps the most worrying thing is the DJ seemed to have decided (in his own mind) the sentence before hearing all the evidence / case. Does that mean he presumed guilt too? Does that mean he didn't arrive at his sentencing options with an open mind.

  3. Well as I've said on numerous occasions, commenting on any case when not in possession of the full facts is always risky. Suffice it to say that the judge thought there were many worrying aspects to this case and I concur based on what I've read in the press.

    By the way this case was not at Magistrates Court with a DJ - it was Carlisle Crown Court with a Circuit Judge. I think one has to be careful if suggesting that such an experienced Judicial Office Holder did anything other than completely 'by the book.'

  4. Just a point in reply to 'Anonymous' points on 2nd Sept 10.00.

    The reason Jim would question the presence of a lawyer on a night bus and his sitting next to the victm is that they are outside of the normative range of behaviours. I have no doubt that, on their own, they would not be considered 'evidence' of anything but, in the context of the offence, it all adds up to a process of 'creating an opportunity'. Most sex offenders need to engage in a series of inoccuous behaviours that, together, create the opporunity to offend and much of this behaviour is easy to dismiss in isolation. When viewed as precursors to an offence, however, they often provide evidence of intent. Why were you an a night bus? Why did you sit next to the victim when there were other seats around? His responses to those questions, which would probably not have been put to him in an interview for an FDR, would help to inform the Probation Officer of his thinking prior to the offence, his willingness to accept treposnibility, his susceptibility to treatment etc etc.

    All in all, this sounds like a good example of trained professionals working together as a team to identify and manage the risk that this man presents to the public.

    I have said it before here; what we do as Probation professionals is hard and should not be underetimated.