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First prison sentence for extreme porn

Sentencing guidelines evolve

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The first serious prison sentence for possession of extreme porn was handed down earlier this month in Newcastle Crown Court.

Stephen Sinclair, aged 44, of Montagu Estate, in Kenton, Newcastle, was sentenced on 11 September to seven and a half years for drugs offenses – and a further six months in respect of a series of illegal images found on his PC.

While the focus of this case was very much on the drugs issue – Sinclair was found in possession of three kilos of cocaine when police raided his property – it also provides a little more insight into how the new law is being applied.

This is another "porn-plus" case: in looking for evidence of one crime (drugs), the police uncovered evidence of another (possession of extreme porn). It is also another case where charges have been brought in respect of material depicting bestiality: in court, police stated that they had found 33 illegal obscene images of animal and human intercourse.

The apparent harshness of the sentence may reflect a number of factors. In what may have been the first case brought under this law, at St Helens Magistrates Court in February of this year, possession of 14 images of bestiality on a PC attracted an 18-month supervision order, 24 hours at an attendance centre, and costs of £65.

This may in part reflect the age of the defendant in that case, who was just 20. In addition, in the earlier case, District Judge Ian Lomax observed that the offender had "low social skills", and believed he had merely viewed the images out of curiosity. He added: "Nothing will be gained by sending you into custody, because you wouldn’t survive because you would be vulnerable. Support and assistance is needed."

In the latest case, a custodial sentence for possession of porn may have been influenced by the seriousness of the drugs offence – since Sinclair was already going to jail on one charge, prison for a second charge was that much more likely - as well as the fact that he was considered fully responsible for his actions.

The second reason for the disparity in sentencing may lie in the newness of the law - and the fact that this case went to Crown Court. When it comes to possession of indecent images of children, courts have evolved a relatively sophisticated system for assessing the seriousness of an offence, according to which of five levels of indecency an image falls into.

No such system yet exists in respect of extreme porn, and it may be that an easy categorisation into levels will be that much harder to develop.

There is also the issue of why the focus is on bestiality – despite the fact that parliamentary argument was largely about porn featuring human on human action.

A member of Consenting Adult Action Network suggested that this might reflect two separate factors: images of necrophilia are relatively rare, and therefore the police are less likely to come across them, while images of person to person extreme porn are far more complex in terms of legal definition. Thus, the police may be reluctant to prosecute in respect of the latter category, because it is harder to define what is included in the law and they may be less confident of winning their case in court.

Possession of images of bestiality, by contrast, is as close to being a "strict liability" offence as one can get under this legislation – and therefore a far easier offence for the police to target. ®

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