Child Sex Abuse Justice: Premier League or Eton Mess?
Two very high profile cases involving child sexual abuse have recently hit the headlines. One involved the Premier League footballer Adam Johnson, capped 12 times for England. The other involved Andrew Picard ( who used his mother's name rather than his father's surname), an Old Etonian from a wealthy , well connected family.
Adam Johnson was given a six year prison sentence for grooming and sexually assaulting a 15 year old girl, a Sunderland fan besotted with him.
As the BBC reported Judge Jonathan Rose told him he had abused a position of trust and caused his victim "severe psychological harm". He told Johnson, 28, he had engaged in sexual activity with her knowing she was under 16. Police also found extreme pornography involving animals on Johnson's laptop.
Andrew Picard, 18, was spared jail and given a 10 month sentence suspended for 18 months after the police found over 1155 indecent children images on his computer in his Eton College dormitory. Like Johnson some of the images involved animals. The judge described some of the videos - which included abuse of babies and toddlers - as "so appalling, frankly I can't bring myself to talk about it."
One of his videos showed a girl as young as three being raped, while others showed young children being forced to have sex with dogs. He also shared these videos and images on a chat room where he was unmasked by undercover police.
Now I am not going to defend Adam Johnson or challenge the sentence he received. He is a Premier League football player who used his position in society to take advantage of an under age girl who obviously had a crush on him, and he took an unhealthy interest in extreme sex.
But I do think there is an element of rough justice when you compare the sentence handed out to him and the one given to Andrew Picard. Adam Johnson is a Northern working class lad educated at Easington Community College who suddenly became rich through his footballing skills.
Andrew Picard is the son of a very wealthy American lawyer living in Westminster and has yet to prove himself in any career. Johnson is splashed all over the tabloids, Picard was initially covered by the tabloids but already reports about his case have been taken down by one newspaper and he is starting to disappear off the internet.
The Mirror reported in a now withdrawn article: " Sallie Bennett-Jenkins, QC referred to her client's remorse and pointed to the good work he had been doing with doctors in the past year, undergoing constant treatment with numerous doctors and psychiatrists.
"This is a young and very able man who has hopes for the future," she added.
"He was able to have this opportunity [to seek help] and this was something Andrew sought for himself, by himself."
Sparing Picard jail, Judge Ross said a term of custody would undo the good work he had done in the past year undergoing extensive counselling.
He said: "This defendant Andrew Picard was a privileged young man. His family are clearly wealthy enough to send him to school in Eton.
"Quite how you found your way into this unpleasant world Mr Picard, the world of chat rooms and exchanging this material, is not clear to me."
Now there could be some mitigating circumstances.which are highlighted by Matthew Scott's barrister blog. He points out that but for the delay in bringing the case to court Andrew committed the offences at the age of 17 when he would have been granted anonymity and the press could only say he was a public schoolboy. As it is his father was spared embarrassment by him being charged in his mother's name - even though this failed when the press found his surname. It is curious that the Crown Prosecution Service allowed him to be charged under a different name anyway.
More interestingly he points out that the judge imposed an order that could still land him in prison. As he writes : " Those who think the judge was going soft on Mr Picard need to ask themselves why, if that was the case, did he impose a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (breach of which carries a prison sentence of up to 5 years)? The law did not require him to impose it, he chose to do so. "
But my view is that this sentencing reflects the present divide in society. The full force of the law comes down on a working class footballer but the law is generous to the crimes of an Old Etonian. I only hope the psychiatrists,doctors and counsellors treating Andrew Picard can get him to change his ways. He is lucky his family can afford them, unlike the plight of many child sex victims.